Gender and Race Influences When Teens Start Using Substances

Researchers at Penn State have found that gender and race influences when teenagers start drinking, smoking and using drugs.

The researchers looked at four sets of data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a survey conducted beginning in 1994, and repeated in 1996, 2001 and 2008 with the same individuals. They then applied an innovative statistical method to plot the prevalence of substance use among Caucasians, African-Americans and Latinos on graphs that tracked the individuals by age and separately plotted the substance use of males and females.

They found that cigarette use among Caucasian teenagers is higher than among African-American and Latino teenagers, especially at 18 years old. Alcohol and marijuana use are also higher in Caucasian teenagers, and the numbers continue to increase until age 20. Throughout their 20s, African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to pick up a smoking habit, while the numbers start to decrease for Caucasian young people at around that age.

Rebecca J. Evans-Polce, a post-doctoral fellow, said, in a news release, "I think that the most important point is that there are big age-related differences in substance use by gender and race/ethnicity. In particular, African-Americans show an increased prevalence in cigarette use much later than (Caucasian) adolescents. We need to think about tobacco prevention interventions that are targeted towards young adults, when use is increasing among African-Americans, instead of just for younger adolescents."

Evans-Polce and her colleagues also found that use of alcohol was higher for males than for females during adolescence. Cigarette and marijuana use were similar between males and females, although slightly higher for male teens, the researchers found.

Evans-Polce said their research is significant for public health officials to better understand and prevent socio-demographic substance use disparities.

Researchers at Penn State have found that gender and race influences when teenagers start drinking, smoking and using drugs.

The researchers looked at four sets of data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a survey conducted beginning in 1994, and repeated in 1996, 2001 and 2008 with the same individuals. They then applied an innovative statistical method to plot the prevalence of substance use among Caucasians, African-Americans and Latinos on graphs that tracked the individuals by age and separately plotted the substance use of males and females.

They found that cigarette use among Caucasian teenagers is higher than among African-American and Latino teenagers, especially at 18 years old. Alcohol and marijuana use are also higher in Caucasian teenagers, and the numbers continue to increase until age 20. Throughout their 20s, African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to pick up a smoking habit, while the numbers start to decrease for Caucasian young people at around that age.

Rebecca J. Evans-Polce, a post-doctoral fellow, said, in a news release, "I think that the most important point is that there are big age-related differences in substance use by gender and race/ethnicity. In particular, African-Americans show an increased prevalence in cigarette use much later than (Caucasian) adolescents. We need to think about tobacco prevention interventions that are targeted towards young adults, when use is increasing among African-Americans, instead of just for younger adolescents."

Evans-Polce and her colleagues also found that use of alcohol was higher for males than for females during adolescence. Cigarette and marijuana use were similar between males and females, although slightly higher for male teens, the researchers found.

Evans-Polce said their research is significant for public health officials to better understand and prevent socio-demographic substance use disparities.