Study of the Day: Substance Abuse Among Teenagers Varies by Race

More than a third of teens used alcohol and drugs in the past year, and whites and Hispanics were some of the most likely to abuse them

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PROBLEM: Though young racial groups are the fastest growing populations in the United States, data about substance-related disorders among adolescents of various ethnic backgrounds are lacking.

METHODOLOGY: Investigators led by Duke University psychiatrist Dan G. Blazer analyzed data collected between 2005 and 2008 from confidential national surveys of 72,561 adolescents aged 12 to 17. They examined the magnitude of past-year substance-related disorders, including abuse of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and opioids among white, Hispanic, African-American, Native American, Asian, Pacific Islander, and multiple race/ethnicity adolescents. They controlled for socioeconomic variables in their analysis.

RESULTS: Among the respondents, 37 percent said they had used alcohol or drugs in the past year while 7.9 percent met the criteria for a substance-use disorder -- that is, their use had escalated, interfered with other activities, caused legal problems, and/or damaged relationships. Among the 27,705 past-year alcohol or drug users, Native Americans (31.5 percent), adolescents of multiple race/ethnicity (25.2 percent), adolescents of white race/ethnicity (25.2 percent), and Hispanics (21 percent) had the highest rates of substance-related disorders. Adolescents of African, Asian, and Pacific Islander descents abused alcohol and drugs the least. Among the substances involved in these disorders, marijuana was the most heavily used, followed by stimulants and then alcohol.

CONCLUSION: Teenage drug abuse is a widespread problem among whites, Native Americans, Hispanics, and youngsters of multiple races. Blazer says in a statement that, among teens using these substances, there's between a 10 and 26 percent chance of having a substance use disorder.

SOURCE: The full study, "Racial/Ethnic Variations in Substance-Related Disorders Among Adolescents in the United States," is published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

Image: stefanolunardi/Shutterstock.

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Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

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