White Men More Likely to Binge Drink, Smoke Pot, Tobacco

Cigarette use,marijuana use, and the inclination to binge drink is higher among men than women overall, and higher for whites than Hispanics or blacks, a new study finds.

For the sake of analysis, researchers and public health officials commonly divide users and abusers of drugs and alcohol into separate groups along such demographic lines as age, gender and racial/ethnic ancestry. Any given individual may have specific risks for substance abuse and substance addiction that depend partly on membership in a particular demographic group. In a study scheduled for publication in February 2015 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, researchers from Penn State University looked at the gender- and racial/ethnic background-related differences in substance use that affect people as they mature over two decades from age 14 to age 32.

Gender and Substance Use

A federally sponsored project called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) provides researchers, public health officials and the general public with year-to-year information on the substance use patterns of all Americans age 12 and older. Gender is one of the key demographic considerations used to analyze the results from this survey. The latest NSDUH figures (which cover the year 2013) indicate that 11.5 percent of all boys and men over the age of 11 use/abuse some sort of illicit or illegal drug or medication. In contrast, just 7.3 percent of all girls and women in this broad age range use/abuse such a drug or medication. In addition to having an overall higher rate of intake, boys and men have higher rates of intake for specific substances that include hallucinogens, cocaine and marijuana/cannabis.

In 2013, slightly more than 57 percent of American boys and men over the age of 11 consumed alcohol. In contrast, 47.5 percent of girls and women drank. (It’s worth noting that the gender percentages for alcohol intake were roughly even for preteen and teenage boys and girls.) Young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 have a particularly high chance of participating in a dangerous form of drinking called binge drinking. In 2013, men in this age group took part in alcohol binges somewhat more often than women (62.3 percent vs. 56.9 percent).

Racial/Ethnic Background and Substance Use

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health also uses racial/ethnic background as one of its key demographic considerations. In 2013, the highest rate of illicit/illegal drug and medication use (17.4 percent) occurred among people with mixed racial/ethnic ancestry. In descending order, the other most heavily involved groups were Native Hawaiians/Other Pacific Islanders (14 percent), American Indians/Alaska Natives (12.3 percent), African Americans (10.5 percent), European Americans (9.5 percent), Hispanics (8.8 percent) and Asian Americans (3.1 percent).

In 2013, the highest rate of alcohol use in any racial/ethnic group (57.7 percent) occurred among European Americans. In descending order, the other most heavily involved groups were people with mixed racial/ethnic ancestry (47.4 percent), African Americans (43.6 percent), Hispanics (43 percent), Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islanders (38.4 percent), American Indian/Alaska Natives (37.3 percent) and Asian Americans (34.5 percent). Four groups — European Americans, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islanders, American Indian/Alaska Natives and Hispanics — had roughly equal peak binge drinking rates (ranging between 23.5 percent and 24.7 percent).

Impact From Ages 14 to 32

In the study scheduled for publication in Addictive Behaviors, the Penn State University researchers used information from a project called the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to determine the impact of gender and racial/ethnic background on substance use patterns as Americans transition from age 14 to age 32. Specifically, the researchers looked at rates of nicotine/tobacco use, regular participation in binge drinking and participation in marijuana/cannabis use. Three racial/ethnic groups were included in the study: European Americans, African Americans and Hispanics.

The researchers confirmed that, broadly speaking, boys and men use/abuse substances more often during the timeframe in question than girls and women. However, the specific gender gaps for nicotine/tobacco intake, binge drinking and marijuana/cannabis intake vary considerably with age. In racial/ethnic terms, boys and men of European-American descent have a substantially higher chance of getting involved in all three forms of substance use than African Americans or Hispanics between adolescence and their early 30s. The largest differences between European Americans and the two other racial/ethnic groups occur in the transition from adolescence to young adulthood (i.e., between the ages of 16 and 20).

Based on their findings, the study’s authors believe that substance interventions based on gender-related factors and racial/ethnic factors likely have peak effectiveness on people of specific ages, rather than on all members of a gender-defined or racial/ethnic-defined population group.

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