Does Discrimination Increase Drug Use or Vice Versa?

African American youths face discrimination that puts them at increased risk for externalizing behaviors such as substance abuse. Rates of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are higher among African American youths than other minorities. This can partially be explained by increased sexual risk taking resulting from substance use. In addition, drug and alcohol use increases the likelihood that young people will be involved in accidents and violent activities that can result in serious injury or death. Substance use also makes youths more vulnerable to psychological and social problems such as depression, academic issues, employment difficulties, and relationship conflicts. Most evidence has identified an increase in drug use due to discrimination among African American urban-dwelling youths. But the rates of drug use among rural-dwelling African American teens are on the rise.

To determine the exact relationship between discrimination and drug use among rural-dwelling African Americans, Gene Howard Brody, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychology at Emory University and Child and Family Development of the University of Georgia recently led a study with a sample of 573 African American young adults from a primarily rural area in Georgia. Brody assessed the youths for school attitudes and attendance, perceived discrimination, and substance use and found a direct link between discrimination and substance use in the male participants. Specifically, the levels of drug use increased as the levels of perceived discrimination increased. However, this same relationship was not evident for the females. Brody believes this could be due in part to the internalizing nature of coping common among females compared to the externalizing coping strategies often expressed by males.

Brody also discovered that substance use did not increase the rates of perceived discrimination in the youths. However, perceived discrimination did influence school truancy and also increased the social interactions with other substance-abusing teens. This suggests that African American youths, and in particular males, are more likely to cope with prejudice and discrimination with drug and alcohol, regardless of whether they are from urban or rural communities. Brody said, “Our findings indicate that public health efforts designed to prevent substance use among male African American youths should include a focus on discriminatory experiences and strategies for coping with them.”

Brody, G. H., Cogan, S. M,  Chen, Y.-f. (2012). Perceived discrimination and longitudinal increases in adolescent substance use: gender differences and mediational pathways. American Journal of Public Health, 102.5, 1006-1011.

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  • Suhendra


    May 14th, 2012 at 3:05 PM

    aaahhh another chicken or the egg sort of question
    It is certainly my belief that discrimination in our society can assuredly lead to higher ates of drug usage and behaviors that would be deemed as inappropriate and risky. Why, you may ask, especially if you have never faced this sort of treatment before. It is almost like you feel like you have been given expectations for you that are only so high; therefore you really feel no need to do any more than necessary. Why should you? You may already face ridicule for your backgorund or culture and a good way to block all of that out is with the use of illegal drugs. I am stating this as someone who has faced this kind of treatment and in my experience it was very easy to get sucked into behaviors that were not the best for me. I regret ever doing some of the things that I did, but when you are young and you feel one way on the inside but have to hear others sauy differently, it does mess with your head. I wish that more people would think before they speak and act, because you never know how you are adversely affecting someone’s life with harsh words and cruel behavior.

  • Ben


    May 14th, 2012 at 4:37 PM

    Suppose it could go both ways. Suppose that if you are a heavy drug user then some could think of you as a hoodlum and discriminate against you because of that kind of behavior.

  • Therapistwebsite


    May 14th, 2012 at 5:53 PM

    I do agree that drug use resulting from discrimination (in one way or the other) is rampant among males given that they are more prone to depression because of their manner of coping with problems. They tend to keep to themselves. Nice post, by the way!

  • preston parks

    preston parks

    May 15th, 2012 at 4:15 AM

    Discrimination is something very tough to deal with for anyone.
    If someone already feels lessened by society, then I think that it is going to be easy for them to fall into the trap of drug use.
    And that is really too bad, because we are losing far too many members of society, both young and old to this scourge.

  • Charlaine


    May 15th, 2012 at 5:34 PM

    where i live the more you use drugs the more other people look the other way and look down on you, like you are bad just for making that mistake, they don’t want to have anything to do with you, sure ain’t going to even point you in the right sirection to get any help



    May 16th, 2012 at 7:30 AM

    I have been very lucky in life. I have never been discriminated against because of the color of my skin or the clothers I wear or the car that I drive. So I guess I sometimes have a hard time relating to some of the discrimination stories that I hear and read about. But I do fully sympathize with the discrimination that drug users must feel, because from what I have seen no one ever trusts them again because of all of the lies that have been told while they have used. I have know druggies, and if anyone is ever going to let you down, it is someone who needs a fix. But what about when they try to clean up, and we still hold all of that past behavior against them? It is hard to forget all of the things that they have done to you, but if they are trying to clean up their lives then we owe it to them to clean up how we feel about them. Give them another chance, as we would want another chance if we were in their same shoes.

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