Prevalence of Substance Use Among Young People in the US by Race/Ethnicity
"For a number of years, 12th grade African-American students reported lifetime, annual, 30-day, and daily prevalence levels for nearly all drugs that were lower – sometimes dramatically so – than those for White or Hispanic 12th graders. That is less true today, with levels of drug use among African Americans more similar to the other groups. This narrowing of the gap between African Americans and other two racial/ethnic groups is also seen in 8th and 10th grade, indicating that this narrowing in 12th grade is almost certainly not due primarily to differential dropout rates.
" Whites have the lowest levels of annual marijuana use in 8th grade, at 8% compared to 11.6% and 14.3% for African American and Hispanic students, respectively. In 10th and 12th grade annual marijuana use differs little by race/ethnicity.
" A number of drugs are much less popular among African-American teens than among White teens, particularly at the higher grades. These include nicotine vaping, marijuana vaping, use of hallucinogens, nonmedical use of sedatives (barbiturates), tranquilizers, LSD, MDMA (ecstasy, Molly), nonmedical use of amphetamines, narcotics other than heroin, cocaine, and cocaine other than crack.
" By 12th grade, White students have the highest lifetime and annual prevalence levels among the three major racial/ethnic groups for many substances, including alcohol use, being drunk, vaping nicotine, vaping marijuana, LSD, hallucinogens other than LSD, MDMA (ecstasy, Molly), and nonmedical use of narcotics other than heroin, amphetamines, and tranquilizers. Not all of these findings are replicated at lower grade levels, however. See Tables 4-5 and 4-6 for specifics.
" Hispanics in 2019 had the highest annual prevalence at all three grade levels for synthetic marijuana, cocaine, crack, and cocaine other than crack. It bears repeating that Hispanics have a considerably higher dropout rate than Whites or African Americans, based on Census Bureau statistics, which should tend to diminish any such differences by 12th grade, yet there remain sizeable differences even in the upper grades.
" In 8th grade – before most dropping out occurs – Hispanics had the highest levels of use of almost all substances, whereas by 12th grade Whites have the highest levels of use of most. Certainly the considerably higher dropout rate among Hispanics could help explain this shift. Another explanation worth consideration is that Hispanics may tend to start using drugs at a younger age, but Whites overtake them at older ages. These explanations are not mutually exclusive, of course, and to some degree both explanations may hold true.
" Table 4-8 shows that White students have by far the highest prevalence of daily cigarette smoking while African American and Hispanic students are fairly close to each other among all three grades, for example, 12th grade Whites have a 3.5% daily smoking prevalence, Hispanics, 1.9%, and African Americans, 1.8%.
" Thirty-day prevalence of smokeless tobacco use is highest among White students in 10th and 12th grade. The difference is quite pronounced in 12th grade, with prevalence rates of 5.6% for White students versus 1.5% for Hispanic and 1.3% for African American students.
" African-American students have the lowest 30-day prevalence for alcohol use in all three grades. They also have the lowest prevalence for self-reports of having been drunk during the prior 30 days. The differences are largest at 12th grade, with 22% of Whites reporting having been drunk, 12% of Hispanics, and 11% of African Americans.
" Recent binge drinking (having five or more drinks in a row during the prior two weeks) is also lowest among African Americans in all three grades; in 12th grade, their level of use is 6.7% versus 18% for Whites and 11% for Hispanics. The corresponding prevalence levels for 10th grade are 4.2% for African Americans vs. 9.7% for Whites and 9.3% for Hispanics. In 8th grade, Hispanics have the highest prevalence at 5.3% compared to 3.4% for Whites and 1.9% for African Americans.
" Hispanic students have markedly lower levels of use for drugs used to treat ADHD than do White and African American students. In 2019 prevalence of use for either stimulant or non-stimulant prescription ADHD drugs was 5.5% among Hispanic students as compared to 12% for White students and 15% for African American students. Use of either of these drugs in the past 30 days is also much lower for Hispanic students, who have a prevalence level of 1.9% as compared to 5.8% for White students and 5.0% for African American students. As to why Hispanic students are less likely to be treated with ADHD drugs than White and African American students, possible contributing factors include Hispanic families being less likely to get access to, or be able to afford, professional assessment and treatment.
" Levels of past-year use for diet pills did not differ much by race/ethnicity in 2019. They varied between a narrow range of 1.5% for Hispanic students and 2.5% for African American students, with White students in the middle at 2.0%."
Miech, R. A., Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E., & Patrick, M. E. (2020). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2019: Volume I, Secondary school students. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.