Study: Whites More Likely to Abuse Drugs Than Blacks

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Black youth are arrested for drug crimes at a rate ten times higher than that of whites. But new research shows that young African Americans are actually less likely to use drugs and less likely to develop substance use disorders, compared to whites, Native Americans, Hispanics and people of mixed race.

“Our goal is to alert people to the burden of drug problems and also to how some of our concern about who has these problems may not be true,” says Dr. Dan Blazer, senior author of the study and a professor of psychiatry at Duke University. “There’s a perception among many individuals that African Americans as a group — regardless of socioeconomic status — tend to abuse or use drugs at higher rate and this [does not support] that.”

Using data from 72,561 youth interviewed for the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, researchers found that 37% of those aged between 12 and 17 had used alcohol or other drugs at least once in the past year. Nearly 8% met criteria for a substance use disorder — either the less severe “substance abuse” diagnosis or the more problematic “substance dependence,” which is more commonly known as addiction.

The study, which was published Monday in the Archives of General Psychiatry, controlled for variables like socioeconomic status because rates of severe drug problems tend to be greater amongst the poor. Despite this, Native American youth fared worst, with 15% having a substance use disorder, compared to 9.2% for people of mixed racial heritage, 9.0% for whites, 7.7% for Hispanics, 5% for African Americans and 3.5% for Asians and Pacific Islanders.

It is not known why rates for Native Americans were so elevated, but the category of substance use disorders does include alcoholism, a disorder for which this group is known to be at high risk.  Marijuana and prescription opioid problems also occurred at higher rates in Native Americans.

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The authors considered abuse and dependence together rather than separating them because the next edition of psychiatry’s diagnostic manual, the DSM-V, will combine them into one diagnosis, with different levels of severity.

“It’s really difficult when you look at the data to actually separate out abuse and dependence,” says Blazer, while acknowledging that merging the categories could pose different problems.

For example, a large proportion of youth with drug problems recover without treatment. While rates of substance use disorders tend to be around 8% in the teen years, these rates dip to less than 2% for those over 26; the number of people who’ve gotten better far exceeds that which could have possibly attended treatment or even self-help groups.

That poses a problem: addiction treatment centers tend to focus on getting youth to acknowledge that they have a chronic, relapsing disease, but this — in combination with surrounding youth with peers who are also in trouble — could create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

MORE: Does Teen Rehab Cure Addiction or Create It?

“Labeling can be problematic,” says Blazer, “but also, treating these individuals is not easy. Most programs have modest success at best and with ongoing use over time the ability to actually reverse [the disorder] declines. Therefore, by identifying these individuals early and intervening early, they have a much better chance.”

That is, of course, if the treatment is effective and doesn’t use tactics that can backfire. “I would hope we get a little more enlightened in the way we treat adolescents,” Blazer says, explaining that treatment must be culturally sensitive if it is to help all types of youth resolve drug problems.

MORE: The Authentic Self: How Do You Know If You’re ‘Really’ Racist or Sexist?

Maia Szalavitz is a health writer at TIME.com. Find her on Twitter at @maiasz. You can also continue the discussion on TIME Healthland’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIMEHealthland.

12 comments
j.mallouf1
j.mallouf1

Use to buy pot from blacks in Detroit. Tons of blacks smoke pot tons! They smoke pot nearly as much as white kids. Even some of the older blacks do a bit of smoking too.






IsaiahIsrael
IsaiahIsrael

@ terry drugs than all racial groups combinedsell and use to likely more times 5 are whites bitch trash white troll u

TerryDeCarlo
TerryDeCarlo

"Black youth are arrested for drug crimes at a rate ten times higher than that of whites."

That's shocking considering black youth are 17 times more likely to be drug pushers than white youth.

TerryDeCarlo
TerryDeCarlo

Whites are also much, much more likely to commit suicide. Surprising considering they have it so easy.

JudieV-c
JudieV-c

@TerryDeCarlo Sorry to burst your bubble with facts, Terry, but whites sell more drugs than blacks at a rate of 40% higher. The justice system is racist, and unfair to blacks, targets them more. White drug sellers are was richer and more powerful than the poor black pushers so they take the brunt of the blame while whites get a pass by the white system and cops. They also pay off/bribe corrupt white and black cops to ignore them. Blacks are unfairly target as usual in a society that it was once OK to sell them, making black slavery legal. What a shock. 

MrJM
MrJM

"That's shocking considering black youth are 17 times more likely to be drug pushers than white youth."

Where was your research published?  Can you provide a link for us?

-- MrJM

MrJM
MrJM

@TerryDeCarlo White dude is surprised when white dudes take the easy way out?

elton1
elton1

@TerryDeCarlo "Surprising considering they have it so easy"?? How do whites "have it so easy"? Define "easy". To whom much is given, much is expected.  If no one expects anything of you, then about what do you have to worry? 

j.mallouf1
j.mallouf1

@JudieV-c  Terry actually is right, he said blacks are more likely to sell drugs than whites which is true he never said blacks push more weight. In America there are more black drug dealers than whites but whites probably do sell in bigger quantities since they have more money. So basically what I'm saying is there could be 50 black dealers and 5 white dealers and the 50 black dealers are each pushing 1 ounce while the 5 white dealers are each pushing 3 pounds the whites are pushing more weight but there are more black drug dealers.


A lot of black drug dealers are street level dealers and they are all condensed in the inner cities which makes it a ripe place for cops to target. It's hard for cops to catch the whites and other races who are the big fish cause they are much more discreet. The inner cities are just one big drug dealing zone perfect for cops to target the street level dealers. What narcotics cops do is bust the street level dealers then offer them a good deal if they snitch on there dealer that is higher up and the cops try to work up the food chain to the big fish. I live right next to Detroit and use to smoke pot and would buy pot from blacks in Detroit like most white kids did in the Detroit suburbs. There are a ton of blacks selling drugs in Detroit and many do it so overtly many random black guys would try to wave me down while I was driving through Detroit trying to sell me drugs cause when they see a white kid in Detroit they usually know he is there to buy drugs and they like the whites buying from them since whites bring them good money.


If you look at crime stats throughout the world it shows that blacks and Latino's have above average crime rates even areas where they are the majority like Africa and Latin America. Face it blacks and Latino's have a crime problem much worse than other races.

littleflowerpowerwonder
littleflowerpowerwonder

@elton1 @TerryDeCarlo  Less likely to get arrested than PoC for the same crimes, more likely to be painted as fallen angels when they do get arrested for crimes they committed (or to have whatever mental disorder diagnosis they have taken into account) more likely to get hired for a job than a PoC, even when the white applicants have a criminal record and the nonwhite applicant doesn't.


There's also the fact that whites are seen so much as the human default that they are allowed more access to health care and scholarships that isn't race-based (and race-based accounts for only 24.3% of American scholarships, meaning whites receive 75.7% of scholarships) and so on.


And I don't know whether white people committing the most suicide is true, but I do know the reason is likely not race-based, whereas black and Native American teens and young adults are the most likely to commit suicide due to racism, so...