Psychosocial Correlates of Substance Use Behaviors among African American Youth

By Wright, Darlene R.; Fitzpatrick, Kevin M. | Adolescence, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Psychosocial Correlates of Substance Use Behaviors among African American Youth


Wright, Darlene R., Fitzpatrick, Kevin M., Adolescence


While most youth live within reasonably constructive social settings and experience nominal stress, a significant number are at risk for adverse outcomes (Collins & Repinski, 1994; Jessor, 1998). Individual-level variables (e.g., gender and age) and socio-environmental factors (e.g., family and school violence) constitute multiple predictors of unhealthy behaviors and choices for youth. Alternatively, avoiding health risks is contingent on the extent of asset, or protective, factors such as positive self-esteem and academic achievement as well as parental and teacher availability and support. Hence, social experiences play a crucial formative role in translating the adequacy or inadequacy of environmental resources into behavioral and psychological outcomes.

This is particularly true for low-income African American adolescents who are more likely than Caucasian and Hispanic youth to reside in poor neighborhoods (Anderson, 1990; Jargowsky, 1997; Wilson, 1987). Massey and Denton (1993) point out that residential segregation in American central cities is more pronounced for African Americans than other races. Low-income African Americans are more likely to be isolated in deteriorating neighborhoods than are poor Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites. Poor local contexts typically expose young residents to violence and crime while isolating them from conventional role models and employment opportunities. In these poor communities, both families and schools suffer from inadequate social and economic resources. As such, homes and schools are often unsupportive and unsafe, increasing the likelihood of adverse behavioral outcomes for young African Americans.

Low-income African American adolescents may therefore be subject to different social processes and structures than adolescent subgroups with similar or better economic and social resources. This, in turn, may lead the former to respond in a culturally unique manner not only to the effects of risks but also to treatment and intervention (Johnson & Hoffmann, 2000; Myers & Taylor, 1998). For this reason, a major goal of this study was to increase understanding of the role of risk and protection in predicting negative behavioral outcomes among African American adolescents.

The multi-domain perspective of a risk and asset factors approach emphasizes the development of the adolescent within a dynamic social context that offers ever-changing challenges and threats (Fitzpatrick & LaGory, 2000). This model may be used to hypothesize age, situational, and transitional variation in youth susceptibility to substance use. By selecting variables that are applicable to adolescents in general as well as African Americans in particular, we are able to better understand what factors correlate with substance use outcomes in the sample. In this way, we are able to hypothesize and discuss why general youth risk variables were or were not associated with alcohol, cigarette, and marijuana use in an African American sample. We are also able to see how those variables specific to low-income, minority youth performed in the analysis (e.g., Myers & Taylor, 1998; Xiaoming, Feigelman, & Stanton, 2000).

Previous literature supports the association between persistent stress resulting from physical abuse in the home and unhealthy behavioral responses (Chaffin, Kelleher, & Hollenberg, 1996; Prino & Peyrot, 1994). Adolescents seek to relieve tension through risk behaviors such as substance use that only compound the negative psychological and physical toll. The nature and type of peer interactions are also consistent and powerful predictors of adolescent substance use (Bailey & Hubbard, 1990; England & Petro, 1998; Ennett & Bauman, 1993; Farrell & White, 1998; Jessor, 1998; Simons, Wu, Conger, & Lorenz, 1994; Windle, 2000). Peers, who often exert a more powerful influence on decisions and actions than parents or other authority figures, are particularly significant during middle adolescence for predicting both normative tasks and risk behaviors such as alcohol and drug use. …

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