According to a 2011 study by researchers at Duke University (which analyzed data from 72,561 young people, aged 12 to 17), white, American Indian and Hispanic teens all had higher rates of drug and alcohol use than African American (and Asian) teens.
What was unclear from that study was why African American teens drink less than their white counterparts—something that researchers from the University of Pittsburgh have sought to understand.
They call it the Tween to Teen project—wherein researchers followed 400 8 to 10 year olds for 7 and a half years—in order to determine if race affects personality traits, which in turn may affect drinking habits.
What they found was this: White teens are more prone to thrill-seeking, which is associated with high alcohol use, while African American teens are more impulsive.
This seems a bit confusing, since impulsivity would seem to lead to a what-the-hell attitude toward drinking. Also confounding is the fact that while African American teens drink less, they have more alcohol-related problems than their white counterparts. This points to possible economic influences on drinking behaviors and outcomes.
And then there’s culture, which also plays a significant role in drinking habits.
As reported in Medical Express, Sarah L. Pedersen, one of the study’s authors, said: “Studies have shown that the African American culture may hold more conservative views about drinking compared to the majority culture in the United States. For example, African American adolescents may feel that their parents and friends disapprove of their drinking more than their European American counterparts.”
So what does this mean for the layperson, trying to interpret the study? Drinking habits and outcomes can’t just be traced to fixed characteristics such as race—or personality. Rather, they are formed through a complex interaction of factors, including culture and economics.
When delivering anti-drinking messages to tweens and teens, cultural and racial differences should be taken into account. It’s not a one-size-fits-all message.