Academic journal article Journal of Cultural Diversity

African American Women and Substance Abuse: An Overview

Academic journal article Journal of Cultural Diversity

African American Women and Substance Abuse: An Overview

Article excerpt

Abstract: Contemporary trends and forces suggest that drug use and drug abuse among women may be rooted in a cultural context. Cultural patterns and experiences provide situations out of which women forge their sense of self, their identity, their concept of race and ethnicity, their notion of gender, and their sense of class. A woman's life experience and situation, and cultural roles and beliefs generally influence drug abuse. This paper builds on the cultural context of drug use by analyzing the socialization of women, and the life circumstances ana socio-demographic experiences women face. Specifically, this cultural context framework forms the foundation for the prevention of drug abuse and the extent to which health professionals need to understand drug abuse and to treat women effectively across class, and racial and ethnic differences.

Key Words: African American Women; Drug Treatment; Social Context; Drug Abuse

Despite rising alcohol and other drug use, accurate, comprehensive information on drug use among women is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain. Difficult partly because of the sensitive and illegal nature of drug use, and partly because of the opinion that drug abusers are unlikely to report illegal drug use (Nobles & Goddard, 1989; Tucker, 1985). Social stigma attached to women substance abusers may also keep these women hidden from health care providers (Hodges-Persell, 1987), and may contribute to inadequate information on drug use prevalence rates and patterns.

In spite of these difficulties, attempts are now being made to obtain this information. When collecting and analyzing data, clinicians and researchers must be sensitive to the cultural realities of drug use. Prominent among these are the roles and cultural beliefs about womanhood, and the life situations and experiences that contribute to drug use and abuse.

This paper reviews what has been written about the prevalence rates and patterns of substance abuse among women. Emphasis is placed on the differences among African-American and Anglo-American women in their drug use patterns. Additionally, the impact of socialization, life circumstances and socio-demographic experiences of drug use is discussed. With this knowledge, implications for prevention and drug treatment are discussed.


A significant pattern observed in women is multiple drug use. Women cocaine abusers use alcohol and marijuana to "come down" from cocaine or to counterbalance its effects (Mondanaro, 1989).

Sometimes, crack cocaine is smoked with marijuana, called primo (Carlson & Siegal, 1991). These commonly used and abused drugs will be addressed. Much of what is known about arug use prevalence comes from the National Household Survey of Drug Abuse (NHSDA) (The White House National Drug Control Strategy, 1994). The 1996 NHSDA indicated different rates of alcohol use in Anglo and AfricanAmerican women (12 years old and older). White women (64.3%) were more likely than Black women (46.2%) to report using alcohol sometime during the year prior to the survey. Similarly, approximately 47.7 % of White women compared with 33.5% of Black women reported alcohol use during the past month when the survey was conducted.

In addition, researchers have described distinct alcohol use patterns among Anglo-American and African-American women. Herd & Grube (1993) found White women more likely than Black women to consume alcohol in public settings such as bars, restaurants, and at parties away from home. Black women were more likely to drink at home or to "hang around" with friends drinking in public places such as parks, streets or parking lots. Herd & Grube (1993) concluded that women who drink at home risked greater social consequences, for example, social criticism and household problems than women who drink in public places. A study by Lillie-Blanton, MacKenzie, & Anthony (1991) indicated that Black women are two to four times more likely to be nondrinkers than White women. …

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