White Teens Have Double the Rates of Drug Addiction as African-Americans

White Teens Have Double the Rates of Drug Addiction as African-Americans

A new study of alcohol and drug use by teenagers found that African-American teens were less likely to be abusing drugs and alcohol than non-Hispanic whites. The group with the highest rates of abuse and addiction was Native American.

“There is certainly a myth out there that black kids are more likely to have problems with drugs than white kids,” said senior author Dr. Dan Blazer of Duke University’s Department of Psychiatry. “This documents as clearly as any study we are aware of, that the rate of substance-related disorders among African-American youth is significantly lower.”

The new study had an unusually large sample – more than 72,000 people ages 12 to 17, who had taken part in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted between 2005 and 2008. About a third of the teenagers told researchers they drink, 19% said they use drugs, and 15% said they do both.

The lowest rates of drug and alcohol use were found among Asian-American teenagers. Among Native Americans, 37% said they used alcohol, followed by 35% of whites, 32% of Hispanics, 25% of blacks, and 19% of Asians. The rates of teens reporting drug use were 31% of Native Americans, 23% of mixed race, 20% of whites, 19% of blacks, 18% of Hispanics, and 12% of Asians.

Almost 8% of the teenagers met established medical criteria for an alcohol or drug use disorder. Among whites, it was 9%, which was twice the percent of African-American teens and three times the percent of Asians.

It is important to note the difference between using alcohol or drugs and having a substance dependency. Teenagers whose parents allow them to occasionally have alcohol at home or who have alcoholic drinks during religious ceremonies can count among those who use alcohol. However, in order to have an alcohol dependency, a teen must meet certain medical criteria such as being able to tolerate larger than normal amounts of alcohol, having been in trouble with the law because of alcohol, and so on.

Eight percent of the teenagers in the study who met the criteria for substance abuse disorders, and those who used marijuana, heroin, cocaine or sedatives were more likely to have substance dependency or alcohol disorders. About 26% of the teens using marijuana had problems with abuse or dependency.

The Duke research team found that prescription drugs such as oxycodone are now second in popularity among teenagers after marijuana. Opiate drug abuse is of particular concern because it is easy to overdose and die from these medications.

In an article published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, Dr. Blazer said, “The diversity of substance use patterns across ethnic groups shows that cultural factors are important in promoting and protecting teenagers from using substances. Prevention and treatment programs that make use of culturally related factors may prove more effective than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.”

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