Black Teens Drink Less Than Whites, but the Reason Why Is Unclear

White teens may drink more, but Black teens have more alcohol-related problems.

Past studies about American youth and drinking liquor have found that African-American teens drink less often and consume less alcohol than their white counterparts. But why those racial differences exist is unclear.


In the first-ever study that specifically compares drinking behaviors between Black and white teens, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh believe that racial differences in personality traits among teens might somehow explain the differences in youth drinking. In their Tween to Teen project, researchers followed over 400 8-10 year olds for 7.5 years to explore these racial differences. They believe that white teens were more prone to being "sensation seeking" and out for the thrill, which has been associated with heavier alcohol use. Meanwhile, Black teens are believed to be more impulsive.


And while more researchers need to do more work around how being impulsive impacts alcohol use, Dr. Tyreese Gaines from The Grio offers up some explanations as to what the data says about Black teens who drink. He wrote:


[Some] older studies suggest that African-Americans who consume alcohol have more alcohol-related consequences. And, while lower socioeconomic status is related to increased impulsivity, the data showed it was not the sole reason for the racial differences.


Medical Express reported that Sarah L. Pedersen, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh and corresponding author for the study, also believes that culture may also be a factor. She said, "Studies have shown that the African American culture may hold more conservative views about drinking compared to the majority culture in the United States. For example, African American adolescents may feel that their parents and friends disapprove of their drinking more than their European American counterparts."

So what does this mean for prevention methods? Should white and black teens receive different messages?




Gregory Smith, university research professor and director of clinical training at the University of Kentucky, told Medical Express, "[Professionals should] develop more specific interventions, some focusing on sensation seeking-based risk and others focusing on other aspects of risk. Each child should be assessed for his or her specific risk profile." He added, "For clinicians and researchers, there is a need to learn more about why African American youth tend to drink less but have more alcohol-related problems."


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(Photo: Bob Thomas / Getty Images)

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