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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