Ethnicity and Health in America Series: Substance Abuse and Addiction in the African-American Community

Substance Use/Addiction in the African-American Community According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 23 million Americans age 12 and older use illegal drugs. The survey also reported an estimated 22.2 million persons age 12 or older were classified with substance dependence or abuse in the past year. These statistics, coupled with the recent legalization of marijuana across some states, The Ethnicity and Health in America Series is raising awareness about substance abuse/addiction from a health framework among African-American populations.

We are featuring the work of Tamika C.B. Zapolski, PhD, who is an African-American psychologist with substantive knowledge and experience in the field of substance use and abuse among people of color. The theme of Zapolski's research lab at Indiana University-Purdue University – Indianapolis, is on understanding the underlying mechanisms involved in substance abuse and addiction among African-Americans, with a particular focus on African-American youth. Previous studies have shown that polydrug use is very common, especially among individuals who abuse alcohol. Although limited studies are available on racial differences on polydrug use among youth, African-American youth appear to be at the highest risk for such use compared to other racial groups. Due to the sparse research examining concurrent use of alcohol and marijuana, her lab has several studies lined up to examine this relatively untouched area of research.

Less Drinking, Yet More Problems: Understanding African-American Drinking and Related Problems

Tamika C.B. Zapolski, PhD
Denis M. McCarthy, PhD
Sarah L. Pedersen, PhD
Gregory T. Smith, PhD

Preface, by Tamika C.B. Zapolski, PhD

Upon examination of the literature on ethnic differences on the rate and course of alcoholism, it is generally found that compared to their European American counterparts, African-Americans report a later initiation of alcohol during adolescence and generally lower rates and levels of use across adulthood. Despite these findings, African-Americans appear to experience more negative social consequences from drinking, experience more alcohol-related illnesses and injuries, and to some extent, are more likely to report alcohol dependence symptoms and/or diagnosis. Although previous research has provided valuable information regarding the general course of use among African-Americans, for the most part, it has failed to identify factors explaining why African-Americans drink less together with why they experience more problems. Moreover, little research has taken into account the importance of culturally specific factors concerning risk for drinking and alcohol-related problems, as well as the heterogeneity of the African-American population and, thus, individual differences in risk among African-Americans.

To this end, I developed a theory of African-American problem drinking, published in Psychological Bulletin® in 2014, which identified risk and protective factors for alcoholism, some of which were culturally specific to African-Americans, and provided a theoretical framework for understanding such risk. Additionally, the paper identified a specific subgroup of African-Americans who appear to be at the highest risk for alcoholism and related problems. Suggestions were provided for future research in order to improve disparities in substance abuse and addiction, as well as treatment utilization for African-Americans.

Upcoming Event

In honor of African-American Heritage Month in February, OEMA will sponsor a community forum through its Ethnicity and Health in America Series to raise awareness about the physiological and psychological impact of substance abuse and addiction. The forum will be hosted in partnership with the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Wards 7 and 8 D.C. Prevention Center, and faculty members from nearby institutions.