Substance Abuse Among African Americans

rastafarian man smoking cannabis

The entertainment industry paints a particularly bleak view of African Americans and drug use, suggesting that African Americans suffer from substance abuse more than any other ethnicity. Additionally, far more African Americans are imprisoned for drug crimes than any other ethnic group in the United States,  boosting the stereotype that young, African-American men are the leading drug abusers in the United States.

What Does The Research Report?

Despite these depictions, recent research is contradictory. Some research shows that African Americans are less likely to have drug and alcohol problems than Caucasian Americans, those of mixed race, or Native Americans; while other studies claim that substance abuse is greater in the African American community.

Measuring drug and alcohol use is difficult because researchers must rely on self-reported numbers. Some of the differences in the study may be accounted for in the types of drugs surveyed. For instance, the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found 10.7% of African Americans and 9.1% of Caucasians age 12 and older reported illicit drug use in the past month; 56.7% of Caucasians and 42.8% of African Americans reported current alcohol use. In this study, the ethnicity showed one of the lowest levels of alcohol use. According to these statistics, alcohol abuse is far more prevalent among the Caucasian community, while  the percentage of illicit drug use is higher among African Americans. However, this study does not ask about addiction or abuse, but rather “use” in a one-month period.

In contrast, a 2011 study published in Archives of General Psychiatry interviewed over 72,000 adolescents from all 50 states. Researchers found that 9 percent of Caucasian children had substance abuse problems, while only 4-5 percent of African-American youth suffered from addiction. In this study, researchers did not distinguish between drugs and alcohol.

The Relationship Between Substance Abuse And HIV/AIDS

Within the African American community, injection drug use is one of the leading causes of HIV/AIDS transmissions, especially among Black men. Inhibited awareness caused by drug and alcohol abuse may also lead people to have unprotected sex, the foremost cause of HIV/AIDS infections among all races, or may cause people to have sex for drugs and/or money to buy drugs.

Success In Treatment And Prevention Options For African Americans

LaTrice Montgomery’s 2011 study published in Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology investigated the success of men and women in two types of substance abuse therapy: Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) and Counseling as Usual (CAU). The study surveyed African American men and women who were treated for alcohol, cocaine and marijuana use. Montgomery found that women maintained a longer-standing relationship with their Motivational Enhancement Therapy counselors than men. Both men and women in MET programs, however, were more likely to keep using drugs or alcohol than those in regular counseling programs (CAU). Montgomery will continue researching why participants continue to use drugs even when they are in MET programs.

Gene Brody’s 2011 study “Family-Centered Program Deters Substance Use, Conduct Problems, and Depressive Symptoms in Black Adolescents” published in Pediatrics found that rural youth who participated in the Strong African American Families-Teen program with their primary care givers, during which both teens and caregivers discussed substance abuse and behavioral problems, were less likely to report substance abuse than youth who discussed only health and nutrition information. Brody’s study suggests that when teens are actively involved in abuse prevention programs with their caregivers, they are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than those who receive no education.