Drug Study Challenges Stereotypes Placed On 'At-Risk' Black & Latino Americans

By Victoria Kim 10/19/17

The study examined addiction “risk factors” among nearly 3,000 Black/Latino adults living in a community with high rates of poverty.

solemn black man wearing a hat

New research in the journal Frontiers in Public Health studied “risk factors” for substance use disorder among Black- and Latino-American adults in areas of economic hardship—and how having the right kind of support can build resilience to drug problems.

A team based at the Center for Drug Use and HIV Research at the NYU College of Nursing researched “risk factors” among nearly 3,000 Black/Latino adults living in a community with high rates of poverty. Living in this type of environment presents certain risk factors, defined as homelessness, incarceration, extreme poverty, and depression, that researchers say are typically associated with higher rates of substance use problems.

But instead they discovered that such stereotypes imposed on individuals living in “high-risk urban settings” don’t always hold.

“We found a substantial proportion of participants had relatively low rates of risk factors, overcoming obstacles and thriving, even in difficult situations beyond their control, such as high local unemployment rates,” explained principal investigator Dr. Marya Gwadz. The researchers observed that participants exhibited a higher level of “resilience,” due to “protective factors” such as emotional and instrumental support (childcare and transportation, for example), education, and employment.

Among the participants, 27% of women and 38% of men were deemed to have the lowest risk for substance use problems. In other words, their likelihood of substance use problems were “comparable to the general U.S. population,” said the researchers.

“We believe our study challenges some of the preconceptions people may hold about African-American/Black and Latino adults living in high-risk urban communities,” said Gwadz.

The researchers note that risk factors are not black-and-white nor are they easy to analyze independent of each other.

“These risk factors may be related in complex ways, occurring together at the same time, in the same person, or in the same community,” they wrote. “Methods are needed to yield new insights into these complex patterns of co-occurring risk factors, by identifying core patterns of vulnerabilities and assets.”

The team hopes their research will help improve targeted intervention and prevention programs for those at higher risk for substance use problems. 

By identifying “protective factors” that build resilience to substance use problems, the researchers hope this could pave the way for specialized outreach efforts and clinical services for “high-risk” groups that lack emotional and instrumental support.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr