African American and Asian teens have a lower rate of substance abuse than other races, according to a new study. The study was published in this week’s Archives of General Psychiatry, and the results can help prevention and treatment programs determine which areas to target.
Statistics of Teen Substance Abuse
The study analyzed information from the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2005 to 2008, which is the most comprehensive ongoing study about substance abuse trends in the country. The data show that 48 percent of American Indian youth abused drugs or alcohol, putting them at the highest risk. They were followed by Caucasian teens whose rate of substance abuse was 39 percent, and Hispanics with a rate of 37 percent. African American teens (32 percent) and Asian teens (24 percent) were the least likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. (1)
The results are not what most people would expect. “What surprised us the most was the relatively lower rate of use among African Americans,” said study author Dan Blazer, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. “The public perception is that that’s not the case,” (1)
This tells us that some inaccurate stereotypes have been made, especially about African American teens, and we would be more accurate to create programs that reach American Indian or Caucasian youth. “This study is an alert. We would like for people to be aware of the issue and the problem and be ready, hopefully, and willing to look at ways in which we can try to turn this around,” said Blazer. “These data should suggest to any policy-making individual that we have a real problem and that problem doesn’t manifest itself equally across all groups.” (2)
Prevention for All Ethnicities
This does not mean we neglect the other teens. The numbers are high for all teens, and adolescents of every ethnicity can benefit from prevention programs. One in 12 teens reported having a substance abuse disorder, meaning their drug or alcohol use led to increased problems in the rest of their lives. These are the kids whose substance abuse interfered with school work, relationships, jobs, or finances.
Teen substance abuse is a problem that needs to be addressed. It is not simply a stage of rebellion that kids go through that will pass. 90 percent of adults who have a drug or alcohol problem started using before the age of 18. (1) “If you really want to reverse the abuse and dependence on these drugs,” Blazer said, “what you need to do is start early, and focus on trying to get these young people into treatment, or catch them earlier and stop them from even starting.” (3)