Studies led by psychologists at Iowa State University find that racial discrimination among African-American teens can lead to drug use in a small percentage of the individuals. Psychology professor Rick Gibbons says the discrimination is not something big — but it is a daily "lower level" discrimination the teens experience.
Gibbons says those in the survey experienced "discriminatory hassles" of one kind of another, dealing with store clerks, low expectations from teachers and occasionally other kids using racial slurs. Gibbons says the discrimination appears to build. Gibbons says the primary effect is anger, and that leads to drug use, mostly marijuana, but not hard drugs. He says the more the teens reported discrimination, the more likely they were to use drugs.
Gibbons says for the last 10 years, researchers have been studying 889 African-American families, half from Des Moines and Waterloo in Iowa, and the other half from small towns in Georgia and the suburbs of Atlanta. Just over 600 of those families chose to participate in this study. Gibbons, who works at Iowa State’s Institute for Social and Behavioral Research, says they don’t know if the drugs are used as a possible release from the discrimination.
Gibbons says it’s a "very small percentage" of the kids who are using drugs, but he says it’s evidence that the more discrimination they face, the more likely they are to use drugs, and the drugs might be a coping mechanism, but researchers don’t know that for sure. Gibbons says they started studying the kids at age 10 and find the drug use generally begins at 15, 18 and 19-years-old.
"It appears as if the early experiences, the kids that report that they’ve had experience with discrimination by age 10 or 11, and that’s pretty young, are at higher risk than other kids who haven’t experienced it at that age, and their experiences are yet to come," Gibbons says. Gibbons says all kids experience what they view as some type of discrimination, but he says they haven’t found the same link to drugs among other kids.
Gibbons says minority, and especially black kids, are likely to report "a fair amount more discrimination." But, he says you don’t find the link between drug use in other races, and the link "appears to be strongest with African-American kids." Gibbons says they’ve applied for five more years of funding to continue the study.