The Influence of Cultural Identification, Religiosity, and Self-Esteem on Alcohol Use among African American, Hispanic, and White Adolescents

By Taylor, Matthew J.; Walker, Terrance L. et al. | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

The Influence of Cultural Identification, Religiosity, and Self-Esteem on Alcohol Use among African American, Hispanic, and White Adolescents


Taylor, Matthew J., Walker, Terrance L., Austin, Chammie C., Thoth, Candace A., Welch, Desiree Z., The Western Journal of Black Studies


Alcohol use among adolescents has been a popular area of study since the middle of the 20th century. Much of this research has traditionally focused on adolescent alcohol consumption in terms of biological and genetic predisposition, socially learned behavior, its role as a means of escape and stress reduction, and links to peer relationships. A great deal of research continues to show annual increasing rates of alcohol consumption among adolescents under the minimum drinking age of 21. National survey results consistently indicate that more than a quarter of 12th grade students report binge drinking (consuming five or more drinks in a row) during the 2-week period preceding the survey (Johnston, O'Malley, & Bachman, 2003a; Johnston, O'Malley, Bachman, & Schulenberg, 2008). This is an important topic because previous work has shown that earlier alcohol consumption among adolescents has been associated with increased risk for alcohol-related problems later in life (Windle, 2003).

Differences in rates of alcohol consumption among various racial/ethnic groups have been well documented. African American adolescents typically have the lowest prevalence of lifetime, annual, monthly, daily and heavy drinking, as well as the lowest frequency of being drunk. Conversely, Hispanic and White adolescents have significantly higher alcohol consumption rates (Johnston et al., 2008). These trends have also been noted by other national surveys. For past 30 day alcohol use among 12th graders, the 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006) found that 36.9% of African American adolescents reported use, compared to 55.0% and 54.4% for Hispanics and Whites, respectively. In order to further investigate potential underlying causes for these differences in alcohol consumption, our study sought to explore the effects of cultural identification, religiosity, and self-esteem on alcohol use among African American, Hispanic, and White adolescents.

Cultural Identification

Social identity theory posits that people use sense of belonging to a group to develop an individual sense of self (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). Part of this cognitive process involves the degree to which external and culturally-based messages about one's group are incorporated, whether consciously or unconsciously, into the individual notion of self. While racial group is just one of a multitude of social reference and identity groups, perhaps it is the most salient within the race-conscious American landscape. Cultural identification (at times referred to as ethnic or racial identity) describes the relationship that exists between an individual and a group with whom the individual believes he or she has common ancestry based on shared individual characteristics, shared sociocultural experiences, or both. Cultural identification can exist at the individual, family, or group level (Phinney, 1990). Matsumoto and Juang (2004) add that an important element of cultural identity also refers to the individual's psychological membership in a distinct culture.

Increased attention has been paid to racial and ethnic identity and their measurement in the recent extant literature (see Ponterotto & Mallinckrodt, 2007). Some have suggested that cultural identity is more salient for minority adolescents than for adolescents who are members of the racial majority, which may be a feature that reflects the power of race within the American cultural context (Martinez & Dukes, 1997; Phinney, 1992). For racial and ethnic minority groups, a critical part of this process is the communication of what it means to be a person of color in the United States, with its history (and current prospects) of race-based oppression. With the potential for exposure to negative cultural messages about minority groups, it follows that an important element of the racial socialization process for minority group members would involve the very deliberate communication of positive counter messages. …

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