Understanding Racial Differences in Substance Use

Understanding Racial Differences in Substance Use

Substance use is a problem that affects many different age groups, and policy-makers as well as those who implement education and prevention efforts must be able to understand the factors that contribute to an individual’s decision to use a substance. Among these age groups, adolescents are especially at risk of developing a long-term problem if they begin using a substance.

A recent study examined the racial and ethnic differences among adolescents engaged in substance use. They looked at the mediation by individual, family and school factors to determine the motivation for using substances. The study, led by Regina A. Shih, was published earlier this year.

The researchers recruited a diverse sample of 5,500 seventh and eighth graders and examined racial and ethnic differences among them. They also looked at how racial and ethnic differences were associated with alcohol, cigarette and marijuana use, and then examined to what extent individual, family and school factors mediated the racial or ethnic disparities.

There were 16 middle schools in southern California from which students were recruited. The students were 49 percent male. The researchers asked the participants to report on lifetime and past-month substance abuse, individual factors such as expectancies and resistance self-efficacy, family factors and school factors.

Generalized estimating equations were used to determine the odds of consumption for each racial/ethnic group after adjusting for sex, grade and family structure. In addition, path analysis models tested mediation of racial and ethnic differences through individual, family and school factors.

The results of the study show that after adjusting for sex, grade and family structure, Hispanics showed a higher rate and Asians reported a lower rate for lifetime and past-month substance use, compared with the rates of non-Hispanic Caucasians.

There were several individual factors that mediated the relationship between Hispanic ethnicity and higher risk of substance abuse, including negative expectancies and resistance self-efficacy, though the higher rate of use was not generally explained by family or school factors.
However, among Asians, family, individual and school factors were found to mediate the connection between race and substance use.
The results of the study show that there is a connection between individual, family and school factors in mediating substance abuse. When targeting specific groups for prevention, education and intervention, the encouragement of intimacy with family and involvement in school may be helpful in reducing the number of students struggling with substance use.
 

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