Ethnic Identity and Substance Use among African American Women: The Mediating Influence of Gender Roles

Article excerpt

Ethnic identity is protective against substance use and other problem behaviors; however, some studies have implicated ethnic identity as a contributor to substance use. We hypothesized that the relationship between ethnic identity and substance use would be fully mediated by gender role orientation. Participants included 562 African American women in the south-eastern region of the United States. Participants completed the Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure (MEIM) and the Personal Attributes Questionnaire and reported past 30-day drug use. We employed structural equation modeling. The composite model displayed acceptable global fit. Ethnic identity predicted African American females' identification with male gender roles. Identification with male gender roles was positively linked to perceptions of drug risk and past 30-day drug use. Perceptions of drug risk was negatively linked to past 30-day drug use. Identification with masculine gender roles as a significant drug risk factor suggests some implications for prevention programming.


Drug use and abuse continues to be of serious concern in this country and is a major contributor to accidents, crime, disability, and death. African Americans do not consume more drugs than other ethnic groups but face worse health, legal, social, and personal consequences from use (Beatty, Jones, & Doctor, 2005). African American women also face more negative consequences from drug use than women in other ethnic groups. For example, impaired judgment and decisions arising from drug use contribute to the disproportionate higher rates of HIV among African American women (Maisto et al., 2004; Wingood & Diclemente, 1998).

There are ethnic differences in overall drug use prevalence and the prevalence of specific drugs. For example, Whites have a higher prevalence of alcohol consumption and binge drinking than African Americans, Latinos, and Asians. African Americans have a higher prevalence of marijuana use than White, Latinos, and Asians. Drug use behaviors including drug use selection is also influenced by socioeconomic, geographical, family, community, and cultural factors (Brook, Brook, Kats, Arencibia-Mireles, Finch, 2009; Corneille & Belgrave, 2007; Lambert, Brown, Phillips, & Ialongo, 2004). In this study, we sought to understand the conditions under which ethnic identity is linked to drug use for African American women. We discuss ethnic identity next, followed by a discussion of gender role beliefs, which were tested as a mediator of ethnic identity and drug use.


Ethnic identity is the awareness and knowledge of an individual's ethnic membership that may be combined with shared values and attitudes of other members of one's ethnic group (Phinney & Chavira, 1992). In general, research suggests that ethnic identity plays a role in promoting healthy practices while protecting against risky health behaviors among ethnic minority populations. Studies show that ethnic identity can protect ethnic minority individuals from tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use (Belgrave et al., 1997; Brook, Duan, Brook, & Ning, 2007; Love, Yin, Codina, & Zapata, 2006). However, the findings from these studies are not unequivocal, and some studies have suggested that ethnic identity is linked to negative outcomes with higher levels of ethnic identity associated with higher levels of drug use (Zamboanga, Raffaelli, & Horton, 2006; Zamboanga, Schwartz, Jarvis, & Van Tyne, 2009). One study by Marsiglia, Kulis, Hecht, and Sills (2004) found that a strong sense of ethnic identity predicted lower drug use for White respondents but higher drug use for Mexican American, American Indian, and African American respondents. Espinosa-Hernandez and Lefkowitz (2009) also found that African American men with high levels of ethnic identity consumed more alcohol before or during sexual intercourse in comparison to men with low levels of ethnic identity. …