Black teens drink less alcohol, but more impulsive, study says

A new study of Pennsylvania teens found racial differences in the personality traits that contribute to youth drinking.

Previous research has already shown that black adolescents drink alcohol less often and drink less heavily than white adolescents. However, University of Pittsburgh researchers looked into the personality differences that may play a role.

The white teens seemed to be “sensation seeking” — defined as looking for the next thrill or risk, while the black teens had more impulsive tendencies, according to the findings. Higher levels of sensation seeking were associated with heavier alcohol use in these teens, implying that this trait may explain why white teens drink more heavily.

Additional research is needed to know the role impulsivity plays in youth alcohol use. But, some older studies suggest that African-Americans who consume alcohol have more alcohol-related consequences. And, while lower socioeconomic status is related to increased impulsivity, the data showed it was not the sole reason for the racial differences.

To collect this data, researchers followed 8- to 10-year-olds into adolescence as part of the Tween to Teen Project. This study of over 400 preteens is the first to examine these racial differences over an extended period of time.

Given the findings, some experts wonder whether teen alcohol prevention strategies should be individualized based on race.

The findings will be published in the October 2012 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Dr. Tyeese Gaines is a physician-journalist with over 10 years of print and broadcast experience, now serving as health editor for theGrio.com. Dr. Ty is also a practicing emergency medicine physician in New Jersey. Follow her on twitter at @doctorty.