How do substance abuse numbers vary among different ethnic groups in the United States? Because law enforcement targets minorities and media perpetuates stereotypes, many people believe that Hispanic Americans and African Americans are more likely to use drugs and alcohol, than White or Asian Americans. These stereotypes are not necessarily true, however, with many studies showing that White Americans have higher levels of abuse than other ethnic groups do.

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Importantly, recent studies conclude that treatment counselors and social services groups should not treat all Asian Americans the same in terms of their likelihood to abuse drugs and alcohol, but rather consider the disparate ethnicities among the Asian American population.

Levels Of Substance Abuse Among Asian American Adults

As an entire ethnic group, Asian American adults tend to abuse drugs and alcohol at lower levels than the national average.

  • 39.8 percent of Asian American adults drink alcohol, while 55.2 percent of the nation drinks alcohol.
  • 13.2 percent of Asian Americans binge drink, in comparison to a national average of 24.5 percent.
  • 3.4 percent of Asian Americans use illicit drugs, yet nearly 8 percent of the total population uses illicit drugs.

A 2010 study published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that different Asian American ethnic groups abuse substances at considerably different rates.

  • 25.9 percent of Korean American adults binge drink
  • 8.4 percent of Chinese American adults binge drink
  • 6.2 percent of Japanese American adults use illicit drugs
  • 2.1 percent of Asian Indian American adults use illicit drugs

Similar to Hispanic Americans, who are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol if they are born in the United States, Asian Americans are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol if they were born in the United States,regardless of their age. In other words, younger Asian Americans are not more likely to abuse drugs than older Asian Americans.

Substance Abuse Among Asian American Youth

Asian American youth face specific problems surrounding substance abuse, especially those who are multiracial.A report from the National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse explains:

  • Multiracial Vietnamese American adolescents are four times more likely to get drunk than mono-racial Vietnamese Americans.
  • Multiracial Asian American adolescents are more than twice as likely to smoke than mono-racial Asian American youth.
  • Multiracial Chinese American youth are three times more likely to use marijuana, than mono-racial Chinese American youth; similar numbers exist in the Filipino population regarding cocaine use.

Treating Each Community's Substance Abuse Properly

Substance abuse happens in different communities for a variety of reasons. Rather than applying stereotypes to particular ethnic groups, it is better to determine why people abuse substances and what the most effective treatment is for each community.

An article entitled "Reducing cultural barriers to substance abuse treatment among Asian Americans: A case study in New York City" suggests that ensuring treatment information is available in the native language, and considering the culture of the patient can make the treatment for Asian American substance abusers more successful.