Black Seniors Less Likely Than Whites To Use Drugs, National Study Suggests

By Ellen Flax — March 06, 1991 3 min read

The national study also found that Native American students have the highest drug-and alcohol-usage rates, and that Asian-American students are the least likely to use drugs. Drug-use rates of white, black, and Hispanic seniors generally fall in the middle range, the study found.

The study was conducted by the same group of researchers from the University of Michigan that annually compiles data about the use of alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes by high-school seniors for the federal government.

This latest study, which appears in the March issue of the American Journal of Public Health, draws on the results of 14 nationally representative surveys of high-school seniors conducted between 1976 and 1989. More than 200,000 seniors participated in the surveys included in the report, and more than 70,000 participated in the 1985-89 surveys that are the primary focus of the new study.

Almost 80 percent of this later group is white; 11 percent is black; 4.2 percent, Mexican-American; 2 percent, Latin American or Puerto Rican; 2.6 percent, Asian-American; and 1.5 percent, Native American.

“Of course, a study of high-school seniors tells only part of the story, because it leaves out the hard-core drug users who have dropped out of school,” said Jerald G. Bachman, a co-author of the study. “But this part of the story is important and often overlooked: The majority of non-white youth do complete high school, and among these individuals, usage rates for both illicit and licit drugs are generally lower than average.”

Differences by Race, Sex

The study found significant differences in the use of legal and illegal drugs by teenagers between 1985 and 1989 according to their ethnic group and sex. Nearly half of the white males and Native American males surveyed said they had consumed five or more drinks in a row during the past two weeks, compared with 31 percent of white females and 24 percent of black males.

Slightly more than 10 percent of Native American males, as well as 5.4 percent of the Native American females, said they drank daily, the highest percentage of any ethnic group.

Among males, Asians were the least likely to drink daily, and black females were less likely to drink than were other girls.

The study also found that:

Native Americans were the most likely to smoke cigarettes daily, followed by white students, Hispanic students, and Asian students. Black students were the least likely to have a daily tobacco habit.

Declines in smoking over the past several years, the study said, have been more pronounced among non-whites, and especially among black students.

Native American students were more likely than all other categories of students to use marijuana during the past month; white students came in second. Asians were the least likely to use the drug.

More than 8 percent of Mexican-American males, and 9.2 percent of Native American females, said they had used cocaine during the previous month, the highest percentages for both sexes. About 5.6 percent of white males and 4.1 percent of white females reported using cocaine; in contrast, 2.6 percent of black males and 1.3 percent of black females said they had used the drug during the previous month.

The study offered no solid clues why some subgroups were less likely than others to use alcohol and drugs. They noted, however, that more religious students were less likely to use drugs than were other seniors.

The study’s authors acknowledge that their findings challenge traditional views about the nation’s drug problem and contradict public-health statistics that show that a disproportionate percentage of adult drug addicts and alcoholics are black.

Other studies, they note, show that, while black youths have much lower drug-use rates than white youths, the gap narrows during early adulthood, and that, by middle adulthood, drug-use rates are often higher among blacks.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 06, 1991 edition of Education Week as Black Seniors Less Likely Than Whites To Use Drugs, National