A new study examining alcohol and drug use among teens has revealed that African-American adolescents are less likely abuse drugs than teens from other ethnic groups.
Over 35 percent of white and over 32 percent of Hispanic teens admitted to alcohol use, while around 25 percent of African-American and 19 percent Asian-Americans and Pacific Island teens reported alcohol use. Drug use patterns were similar to those for alcohol use.
“We did not think that African Americans had a significantly higher use and disorder rate, but the lower rate was a surprise,” said lead author Dan G. Blazer, of Duke University’s Department of Psychiatry.
“These data suggest the need to continue monitoring both substance use in the community and substance use disorders […] across racial [and] ethnic groups,” added co-author Li-Tzy Wu, also of Duke’s Department of Psychiatry.
The results show that overall 37 percent of teens said they had used alcohol or drugs in the past year. Researchers found that teens used marijuana more frequently than alcohol or other drugs, and analgesic opioids — like pain pills or heroin — replaced inhalants, or “huffing,” as the second most common drug after marijuana.
These findings surveyed 72,500 adolescents from all 50 states between 2005 and 2008, and asked about their use of alcohol and nine classes of drugs, including inhalants, marijuana, cocaine as well as non-medical use of prescription analgesic pain pills and sedatives.
“I think it will be surprising to some people what the numbers show,” said Blazer. “Among teens using these substances, there’s between a 10 percent and 26 percent chance of having a substance abuse disorder.”
Native American adolescents had the highest rates of substance use, with nearly 48 percent of teens reporting alcohol or drug use, and 15 percent considered to have a substance abuse disorder.
Blazer added that the study was unable to break the racial and ethnic groups into subsets to more precisely understand where problems were most prevalent.
After Native Americans, around 23 percent of children of mixed ethnicities and 20 percent of white teens admitted drug use, while African-American and Hispanic drug use rates were similar at around 18 percent. Asian teens had the lowest rates at just under 12 percent.
Overall, around 8 percent of teens were considered to have reached the criteria where they were considered to have a substance use disorder. For these adolescents, marijuana was most heavily used, followed by stimulants and alcohol.
The study reports also some worrying patterns of drug abuse and dependency among adolescents. Although heroin was used by a small proportion of teens, it was also likely to result in addiction for over 26 percent of teen users. Marijuana, the most widely used drug, lead just under 26 percent of teens to develop marijuana abuse or dependency problems.
Reflecting on the implications of the study, Blazer added that he hopes the findings will highlight the burden of substance use and substance use disorders among adolescents. He reflected that the findings could help in the development and testing of new and culturally sensitive approaches to prevention, diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
“Substance abuse problems are very difficult to treat when you get into adulthood,” added Blazer. “It would make sense that if we can intervene early, in adolescence, then our efforts should lead to more positive and long term results compared to efforts later in life when use may have continued for many years if not decades.”
“We are in the process of conducting the analysis for adults,” added Wu, of the team’s ongoing research. “However, adolescents’ data may not be completely consistent with adults.”
According to the authors, the study also reflects the ease of access to alcohol and drugs. Admittedly, the authors added, there are no easy answers to reduce the widespread availability of these substances to potential users, regardless of their age.