The Truth About Race and Drugs

By Dirk Hanson 11/09/11

Startling new research shows black teenagers are less likely to drink or do drugs than their white peers.

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The reasons for the differences aren't clear.

Attention amateur sociologists: forget everything you believed about race, ethnicity and drug use among teenagers. According to potentially explosive new research, it turns out that black and Asian teens in the US use drugs and alcohol much less than their white and mixed-race counterparts, and that Hispanics fall somewhere in the middle. The study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, found that Native American teenagers showed the highest rate of “substance-related disorders” (using DSM-V criteria) by far: a worrying 15%. After that, adolescents of multiple race/ethnicity and whites scored 9%, Hispanics 8%, African Americans 5%, and Asians and Pacific Islanders had the lowest rate, at just 4%. The researchers, based at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, combed through reams of records and questionnaires from more than 72,000 kids around the country aged 12-17. About 37% had used alcohol, prescription painkillers, marijuana, cocaine or hallucinogens in the previous year, with about 8% meeting the criteria for addiction. The rise of the abuse of prescription opioids is confirmed among this age group: they've now become adolescents' second most favored illegal drug, after marijuana. “What surprised us the most,” admitted study author Dan Blazer, “was the relatively lower rates of use among African Americans. The public perception is that that’s not the case."

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]