Racial Discrimination-Induced Anger and Alcohol Use among Black Adolescents

By Terrell, Francis; Miller, Aletha R. et al. | Adolescence, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Racial Discrimination-Induced Anger and Alcohol Use among Black Adolescents


Terrell, Francis, Miller, Aletha R., Foster, Kenneth, Watkins, C. Edward, Jr., Adolescence


Alcohol continues to be the most common form of drug used among America's youth (Clark & Scheid, 2002). Based on data provided in the Office of Applied Studies, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA, 2006) 2004 report by the National Household Survey of Drug Abuse (NHSDA), an estimated 7.6% of individuals between 12 to 17 years of age had consumed alcohol during the previous month. The NHSDA data further indicated that males had a higher rate of alcohol consumption than females and that 7.9% of the White population compared to 6.5% of the Black population within this age range had consumed some form of alcohol within the past 30 days at the time of the survey.

A common theory that has been proposed to explain the etiology of alcoholism is the so-called stress theory (Willerman & Cohen, 1990), which argues that at least some individuals begin to drink in order to reduce their stress level. Thus, the use of alcohol for some may represent a form of self-medication to reduce anxiety and other uncomfortable feelings. Research does seem to indicate that some individuals tend to drink in order to relieve tension. For example, Lipscomb, Nathan, Wilson and Abrams (1980), administered high and low doses of alcohol to young males who were apprehensive about interacting with a female confederate. These investigators found that the larger the amount of alcohol consumed, the more participants reported feeling less tension prior to asking the female for a date.

Anger has recently been defined as a syndrome of relatively specific feelings, cognitions, and physiological reactions that are linked with an urge to injure some target (Berkowitz & Harmon-Jones, 2004). According to these theorists, anger tends to be aroused when an individual is prevented from attaining an important goal or interfered with in the fulfillment of a need by an external agent's improper action. A common manifestation of anger is aggression (Berkowitz & Harmon-Jones, 2004). However, among some populations and in some situations, it may not be feasible or appropriate to directly and overtly express anger.

It is generally agreed that Blacks are more likely to be exposed to racial discrimination than are members of many other cultural and ethnic groups. Further, anger, due to this ongoing racial discrimination, has long been recognized to exist among Black Americans (Cleveland, 2003; Grier & Cobbs, 1968, 1971). This anger has been precipitated by discrimination in a variety of situations (Terrell & Terrell, 1999; Feagin, Early, & McKinney, 2001). According to White (1984) many Blacks begin to recognize either that they, or members of their ethnic group, are discriminated against during early adolescence. Yet these adolescents tend to have few safe outlets to express their frustration and anger.

A growing body of data suggests that this anger has an adverse effect upon the health of Blacks. Most of the findings have reported a relationship between what is probably racial discrimination-induced anger and physical disorders, especially hypertension (McClelland, 1979; Thomas, Nelesen, & Dimsdale, 2004) and coronary heart disease (Diamond, 1982).

Recently a past U.S. Surgeon General stated that at least in some instances variables related to one's culture might place an individual at higher risk for some forms of mental illness or behavioral problems than they would for members of other cultural groups (Satcher, 2001). Alcohol is classified as a depressant (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Thus, among other things, a sufficient quantity of alcohol can have a sedating effect. Although the Office of Applied Studies (National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2006) report indicates that the incidence of drinking among Black adolescents is less than that found among Whites, it is possible that at least some Black adolescents may consume alcohol for reasons related to ongoing discrimination and its concomitant anger. …

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