People who are discriminated against cope with that discrimination in various ways. Although some cope adaptively and use strategies that are constructive and empowering when they are faced with adversity, others turn to maladaptive coping mechanisms. One such mechanism is the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs. Racial discrimination has been shown to be related to increased drug and alcohol use, but has not been proven to be the cause of the increase. So why is it that some people use alcohol and drugs to cope while others do not? Meg Gerrard of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire wanted to explore this question further. In a recent study, Gerrard looked at whether people used drugs/alcohol as a method of coping consistent with their habitual coping strategies, or if they believed that substance use would decrease their feelings of stress and negativity stemming from the discrimination.
Gerrard conducted three separate studies designed to elicit feelings of discrimination among a sample of African-American adolescents. In her third study, she followed the level of substance use for eight years to determine the long-term influence of the discrimination-use relationship. She found that the participants who felt that substance use was an acceptable way to cope with problems were more likely to use drugs/alcohol when they felt discriminated against than those who did not endorse substance use. Over time, the results revealed that those who did support substance use as a method of coping continued to use drugs/alcohol throughout adolescence and into early adulthood, while those who never supported this belief did not. These findings suggest that adopting substance-use behaviors early on can lead to long-term maladaptive coping strategies for some individuals.
The findings from this study were gathered only from African-American participants. Future work should look at the coping-discrimination dynamic among other minority individuals, as evidence exists that prejudice and discrimination increases stress across all ethnicities. Gerrard noted that one domain that was not examined in her study was the effect of parental support. When parents teach their children how to handle stressful situations prior to their occurrence, children have a better chance of dealing with challenges such as discrimination in productive and adaptive ways rather than trying to relieve the stress with drugs or alcohol. Research should explore the buffering effects that family and parental support can have on this segment of the population. Until then, these studies demonstrate that acceptance of maladaptive coping strategies can increase negative behavior in people facing discrimination. “The current studies also provide evidence that use-as-coping is not caused by discrimination—instead, it increases the relation between discrimination and subsequent substance use,” Gerrard said.
Gerrard, Meg, Michelle L. Stock, Megan E. Roberts, Frederick X. Gibbons, Ross E. O’Hara, Chih-Yuan Weng, and Thomas A. Wills. Coping with racial discrimination: The role of substance use. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 26.3 (2012): 550-60. Print.
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.