A comparison study of the racial and ethnic differences in adolescent substance use recently revealed that Hispanic middle school students are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol and use marijuana when compared to other race groups of the same age.
The survey, conducted at 16 middle schools in California, also found that Asians were least likely to use these substances.
Co-author Regina A. Shih, Ph.D. and other colleagues with RAND Corporation research group suggested that prevention programs for substance abuse may need to be refined to more appropriately address the differences in uptake between different race and ethnic groups.
“Most interventions haven’t really been tailored to be culturally appropriate,” Shih explained, further noting that each of the groups also had specific personal and environmental influences for why they made the choice to smoke, drink or use drugs.
The study is part of a larger project focused on intervention and funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which is currently led by Dr. Elizabeth D’Amico.
For this diversity piece, researchers studied 5,500 seventh and eighth graders, and more than 20 percent were found to have experimented with alcohol, while 10 percent said they had smoked and 7 percent had used marijuana.
Comparative to the overall results, 25 percent of the Hispanic population had consumed alcohol, while 21 percent of blacks, 18 percent of whites and less than 10 percent of Asians had done the same.
Cultural and personal factors were found to affect the difference in uptake between ethnic groups.
The Hispanic middle schoolers were found to have less confidence in their ability to ward off peer pressure and decline using substances. It was also found that this group had a different level of belief regarding the negative consequences associated with smoking, drinking and drug use.
Factors influencing the low use of substances with the Asian population included a high respect for their parents’ wishes and low rates of substance use by their older siblings and peer group.
Shih pointed out that the findings did not suggest that prevention efforts be changed to target a particular culture or race. Instead, researchers suggested that key drivers affecting choice for substance use within each of the ethnic groups should be widely applied across a more global prevention strategy.
“It is important for parents to be aware that many youth initiate substance use during the middle school years, and parents can help their teen make healthier choices by monitoring their activities and talking with them about these issues,” Shih said.
When other factors were comparatively applied to determine differences between ethnic groups—such as gender or a student’s family structure—the findings still held true with Hispanics having greater odds for substance use and Asians falling into the lowest category.
The research group plans to further this study, following the progression of substance use over time in adolescents to determine how personal and environmental factors at home and in school impact the odds of an adolescent making the choice to smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs.
Findings from the study can be found in the September issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.