Miscellaneous / Substance Abuse In African American College Students

Substance Abuse In African American College Students

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Autor:  anton  08 April 2011
Tags:  Substance,  African,  American,  College,  Students
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This paper looks at substance abuse as it relates to African American college students. Some of the factors under consideration are the causes and ramifications of substance abuse. The growing problem of substance abuse has not gone unnoticed by respective college administrations and this paper also looks at what colleges and universities are doing to educate students on and prevent substance abuse. The primary theme of the paper will be the messages about substance abuse that are available to students on black college campuses and to residents in the District of Columbia. All in all, this paper addresses every major aspect of substance abuse as it involves African American college students.


What constitutes substance abuse? Defining this term is of paramount importance to understanding the main points of this paper and how they factor in to the overall concept of the paper.

It would appear that when it comes to defining what actually constitutes substance abuse, researchers can only agree to disagree. The definition of abuse differs in the case of alcohol use; from excessive consumption to self-identification as a problem drinker. Fortunately with respect to drugs, the defining literature is far less confusing because researchers for the most part agree that any use of illicit drugs constitutes abuse. If there is any disagreement, it is on how to categorize the noticeable levels of abuse. For the sake of simplicity in writing this paper; substance abuse will be regarded as any violation of drug policies and laws that govern student populations and the general population across the nation.

African American students, especially female African American students are a growing minority on the college scene and with that growth comes a lot of expectation and evaluation. Combined with preexisting fear of a "bigger world" it is not unusual for the easily swayed to try to fit in anyway they can. Armed with this knowledge colleges and universities long ago, either by design or by initiative fostered the growth of campus programs where young people could meet and socialize, celebrating a theme or shared activities. While some of the programs have proven successful in distracting some students from engaging in anti-social activities that perpetuate or lead to substance abuse, students cannot be distracted all the time. Most youth are exposed to people who abuse substances by the time they complete high school and as such have already had the chance to say no and did not.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is nothing new on college campuses. In fact it seems that at one point in time, drug use was synonymous with college attendance. If you went to college, you most likely "inhaled".

The National Youth Network (NYN) says that for the most part different substances invoke different symptoms, but by far the most glaring symptom is a radical change in the abuser's behavior. Lack of coordination, memory impairment, loss of focus and slurred speech are some other pronounced indicators of substance abuse. Among some of the most commonly abused substances are; alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, opiates, "club drugs" (ecstasy, etc.), stimulants, hallucinogens, inhalants, prescription drugs, and steroids.

According to the NYN there are three categories of substance abuse:

A. Use: The occasional use of alcohol or other drugs without developing tolerance or withdrawal symptoms when not in use.

B. Abuse: The continued use of alcohol or other drugs even while knowing that the continued use is creating problems socially, physically, or psychologically.

C. Dependence: At least three of the following factors must be present:

a. Substance is taken in larger amounts or over longer periods of time than the person intended.


Substance use and abuse is higher among US college students than among similarly aged young adults in the general population.

Considering the chemical reaction that goes on from the time of ingestion it is understandable that addiction is one of the most powerful of intangible concepts and combined with curiosity, it can become a weapon of college destruction. There are many documented reasons why African American college students are driven to substance abuse. Statistical research shows that a good percentage of students are predisposed to the behavior because it is what they are used to in a previous environment before coming into college. Binge drinking is no longer an uncommon activity on college campuses and has not been for a long time. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism there are certain factors which support the culture of college drinking. It has been documented that excessive alcohol use are highest on campuses in which sororities and fraternities dominate, sports teams have a prominent role and at schools located in the Northeast.


A surprising aspect of some research is that African Americans have lower rates of abusing alcohol, tobacco and other drugs when compared to their college peers. (See Appendix Table 2) According to a report in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation website, Harvard University's school of Public Health documented that African American students drink, smoke cigarettes and marijuana at less than half the rate as their white counter parts.

That notwithstanding, substance abuse is still a problem and as one study showed it is not going away any time soon. In a survey on incoming freshmen at HBCUs presented by Dr. Bernita Patterson in 2002, cause and effect are more interwoven than ever when dealing with substance abuse. Substance abusers usually went full circle with cause becoming effect and vice versa. The purpose of the study was;

В• To assess the attitudes, knowledge and behaviors of entering freshmen at HBCUs regarding alcohol, marijuana and other illicit drugs

В• To determine the extent of problem behavior as it relates to substance abuse on these HBCUs

В• To identify protective and/or risk factors for substance use in entering freshmen at HBCUs

В• To determine entering freshmen's knowledge of policies and counseling services on their respective campuses

The fourth bullet point is of primary interest as it falls within the purview of this paper but first, I will address some of the responses gleaned from the study.

With respect to the family members within their household, at least 10% of the respondents reported that a member of household used illicit drugs, 20% reported marijuana use, about 50% reported tobacco use and 80% reported alcohol use. These numbers indicate the exposure of the youth to these substances and on some level their predisposition to it even before they come in to a college campus. Of the respondents to the survey, about 33% had immediate family members who were substance abusers. A significant number of these respondents (who had themselves become abusers) affirmed that a family member was responsible for their trying out one or more of these substances in the first place.

A lot of the resulting data shows that these students came in already abusing substances, breaking the law by their use or both. As can be seen in the appendix section (Fig.1) only 20% of the students were not aware of their respective campus' drug policy and about 48% were not aware of the treatment policies. So it would seem, that while knowledge is empowering, it is not always a deterrent, especially in substance abuse cases.


The impact of both alcohol and other drug use has escalated in recent years. Substance abuse (alcohol) is the single greatest threat to the value of life on campus for a college student. Depending on who you talk to or where you get your information from, you will ultimately discover that there are several fallouts from the abuse of substances most notably alcohol. We see it often during celebratory times and holidays. Young and old alike commit the same errors that often lead to a fatality or lifelong misery for victim, perpetrator or both.

Substance Abuse Among African American College Students

While a lot of research has been done on drug abuse by pre-college adolescents and college students during the 60s and 70s, few recent studies have been done on college populations today, to say nothing of African American student populations. It seems that surveys and data analyses were often carried out without regard to race and in gender. That said it is noteworthy to mention that men and women demonstrate differing patterns of drug and alcohol abuse.

A common excuse for excessive drinking on the part of college students is often peer pressure. Everything from polite invitations to outright goading by "friends" to drink fall under this category. Incoming freshmen and still insecure sophomores often find themselves still living out their high school days in the halls of sound academic minds, and that may leave them feeling a little inadequate. Couple that with social uneasiness and school administrations have a problem. The apparent collective norms can make alcohol abuse common place and very acceptable (Borsari & Carey, 2001).

Messages against Substance Abuse

College Campuses

Daniel Kapner writes that although HBCUs make up only 2.5% of colleges and universities in the United States, they are responsible for educating over 16% percent of African Americans. On the U.S. Department of Education's Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention website, there is a link to what colleges and universities are doing to combat the substance abuse problem and each link leads to a number of colleges and universities summary page which states the problem (primarily alcohol abuse) what was done to combat it and the results thus far. Unfortunately there appeared to be no HBCU listed on that site, but some of the general strategies were listed and it can be inferred that HBCUs which are involved in the anti-substance abuse message are implementing similar strategies in their programs and emulating colleges and universities with success stories in the fight against substance abuse.

Some of the alcohol and other drug (AOD) prevention and treatment techniques being utilized at some of the colleges and universities listed on the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention website include; education: Changing knowledge, attitudes, behavioral intentions. Early intervention: Treatment, Health Promotion/Protection, Offering alcohol-free social and recreational options,

creating a health promoting normative environment. Limiting alcohol availability

Restricting marketing and promotion of alcohol and increasing enforcement of laws and policies

The Center for Drug Abuse Research at Howard University has as its mission;

"В…to increase the body of knowledge related to prevention of drug abuse among African Americans".

While this is a laudable cause, it would appear that there is no cohesion between all the various units on Howard's campus who are doing any sort of research into the use and abuse of substances. There are several departments working on different aspects of the substance abuse problem for different reasons and under different sponsorships and that may be the cause of the disjointed messages. There were acknowledgements of achievements by certain individuals and resources for information and treatment but again no clear force stating Howard University's position.

The University of Maryland for its part has a very interactive website with a lot of information for substance users and abusers alike and even people who just want to be knowledgeable on substance abuse. (http://www.umm.edu/ency/article/001945.htm#).

The author of the Reponses to the Four Articles stipulates that, HBCUs have an unquestionable duty to provide direction in addressing the drug abuse issue. The task of black institutions of higher learning has always been broader in scope than that of non black academia. In addition to the primary role of educating the nation's next black leaders, HBCUs have served (and continue to serve) as instigators for social revolution. Together, these institutions have forged a legacy of being responsive to the varied issues facing African-Americans.

District of Columbia and Surrounding Metro Area

The Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration (APRA) programs and services is the brain child of the Office of Prevention and Youth Services (OPYS). This office is a unit of the District of Columbia's Department of Health and is dedicated primarily to the reduction of substance abuse by youth but also by members of the general community as well. In dispensing aid to the public, OPYS uses a wide range of strategies which include providing alternative activities for District of Columbia residents, community-based and environmental enhancement programs, early intervention strategies and information through education.

The Office of Prevention and Youth Services, despite its name is geared to helping all citizens with a substance abuse problem. It assertively disperses information periodically at several events throughout the year including health fairs, community events, and anywhere there is a large gathering of the public. Additionally, the OPYS takes its message to public and charter schools in the District of Columbia. OPYS has a relationship with the District of Columbia school system which enables it to reach further and spread its message of anti-drug use and abuse better.

OPYS disburses grant funds to community based organizations which deliver Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug prevention program models. A range of service models are provided at after-school and family centered environments. Additionally, OPYS annually conducts compliance checks on merchants to ensure that minors are not being sold tobacco products. Vendor education programs are facilitated by APRA to reinforce the prohibition against sales of tobacco to minors.

OPYS is geared towards prevention, but acknowledges that there are people out there already in need of treatment. As a result it has developed the District's Youth Substance Abuse Treatment System. In coordination with non-profit, private and government institutions, it provides a full range of youth treatment services across the city.

Other Organizations Sending Messages

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation & National Black Women's Health Project

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded the National Black Women's Health Project (NBWHP) to organize and mobilize students at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to help students become more aware of the impact that substance abuse is having on the youth within their immediate environments and to help in prevention and intervention measures being taken on their campuses and in the surrounding communities. The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) also supported the cause by providing $80,000 for NBWHP В— an advocacy organization whose mission is to improve the health of African-American women В— to develop a consortium on substance abuse at eight historically black institutions. These institutions include Bennett College (Greensboro, NC), Fisk University (Nashville, TN), Jackson State University (Jackson, MS), Langston University (Langston, OK), Lincoln University (Jefferson City, MO), Meharry Medical College (Nashville, TN), Morgan State University (Baltimore, MD), and Southern University (Baton Rouge, LA).

The NBWHP trained over 90 students as self-help group facilitators at seven HBCUs and the results were quite impressive with over 600 students participating in the self help groups and some of the schools even expanding their efforts into their local communities.

The NBWHP used a variety of professionals to setup and educate the people involved in the program and one such professional was Dr. Patricia Fisher of Howard University who was retained to help develop a model for substance abuse prevention curriculum to be used in training students on aspects of intervention and prevention strategies.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) is for its part trying to change the culture of drinking that is so pervasive on college campuses. According to a survey it conducted, about 70% of students consume alcohol each month. When taken into account that a lot of college students are under the lawful drinking age this becomes a problem.

Combined with the fact that some of these students are problem drinkers, specific strategies targeting college students have to be put in place. The NIAAA Task Force on College Drinking was created to respond to the growing concern of excessive alcohol consumption by college students and to plug the holes in the knowledge base regarding effective prevention strategies and interventions. The report by the task force goes beyond the usual grinding out statistics and emphasizes the impact on society that is the result of college binge drinking. It also describes solutions and tools for university administrations, communities and families alike on how to deal with the most prevalent substance abuse problem on college campuses. A third portion of the report put out recommendations on how to close the knowledge gap on this particular substance abuse by college students.

National Institute on Drug Abuse

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (a sub unit of the National Institute of Health) set up the HBCU Initiative. It was designed to draw support from Historical Black Colleges and Universities in researching drug abuse. A selected outcome of this initiative was the creation of a drug abuse research center at Howard University which has since received a substance abuse grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The establishment of the initiative was to address substance abuse as it affects minorities (primarily African Americans) but no doubt this and other research which is routinely carried out in academic settings will benefit college students, either through direct involvement or as an experimental population.

Moving Forward

Daniel Ari Kapner author of Alcohol and Other Drug Use at Historically Black Colleges and Universities; has what seems to be the best plan to expanding the Anti-drug message on the campuses of historically black college campuses. He writes that in light of the fact that HBCUs have been making great strides in helping to keep drug rates low, more can be done to reinforce their efforts by having them share with each their unique perspectives in their prevention efforts. He also goes on to mention that predominantly white institutions of higher learning could benefit from the practices currently instituted at HBCUs and also included the following recommendations as imitable

Also helping to combat the growing epidemic is the National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Substance Abuse Consortium (NHBCUSAC) an organization founded in 1993 whose primary mission is to increase the number of African Americans and other minorities in the field of substance abuse. It aims to address issues related to substance abuse intervention, prevention, research, treatments and education. The NHBCUSAC is a conglomerate of Historical Black Colleges and Universities located in the United States that have or in the process of developing substance abuse curricula and/or research programs.


Without a doubt there are a lot of African American students using and abusing substances and a lot of colleges and universities are trying to do something about it. However to be realistic, colleges and universities do not really want the burden of identifying and treating illicit drug users and overzealous alcohol abusers. The tertiary institution is a place of higher learning in which the focus is academics, research, and (to some extent) national recognition. No administration really wants to burden themselves with identifying at risk students and helping them overcome their habits. Like so many situations in today's world, it will only get the attention of the president of the respective institution if and when something happens to give that institution the type of national recognition that it doesn't want.

The results of substance abuse are a myriad of problems affecting every facet of life, including increasingly bad health, increasing mortality rates, social dysfunction, impaired learning and employment opportunities and the all too familiar involvement with the justice system. Substance abuse has also been shown to be an increasing factor in reduced productivity and functionality in the workplace. Despite this growing problem substance abuse efforts are grossly under funded.

Of every dollar that American states spend annually on substance abuse, only 3.7Ð’Ñž goes towards prevention, treatment, and research aimed at reducing the incidence and consequences of substance abuse. Yet, an infusion of dollars into substance abuse prevention programs would likely lead to savings of thousands or even millions of dollars annually in healthcare, criminal justice, and child welfare system costs, and in regained work productivity.(Merrill et al., 2006)


Table 1. (Retrieved from PowerPoint of the NHBCU Substance Use Survey Project College)


Illicit Drug Students at HBCUs Students at Predominantly White Institutions

Marijuana 12.8% 22.9%

Amphetamines 2.9% 5.1%

Cocaine 1.8% 3.1%

Sedatives 1.4% 2.4%

Hallucinogens 1.0% 4.9%

(Retrieved from http://www.higheredcenter.org/pubs/factsheets/hbcu.html)

Table 2: Core Institute 1995 Key Findings on Illicit Drug Use at HBCUs


Brian Borsari, & Kate B. Carey (December 2001).

Peer Influences on College Drinking: A Review of the Research. Journal of Substance Abuse, Volume 13, Issue 4. Retrieved 11/10/2006. http://www.sciencedirect.com

Assessing Collegiate Substance Abuse: Current Trends, Research Needs, and Program Applications. Retrieved November, 6 2006 from


Jeffrey C Merrill & Ilana Pinsky & Ley A Killeya-Jones

Substance abuse prevention infrastructure: A Survey-based Study of the Organizational Structure and Function of the D.A.R.E. Program: Retrieved November 19, 2006 from


Robert Wood Johnson Foundation


National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism


District of Columbia Department of Health


Patterson, Bernita L. Alcohol and Drug Research University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff

Substance Use Data among African American College Students Attending HBCUs

The NHBCU Substance Use Survey Project College

Kapner, Daniel A. Alcohol and Other Drug Use at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. 2003. The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention. Retrieved November 15, 2006 from


Responses to the Four Articles. Reactions from a Metropolitan Campus

United States Department of Education. Retrieved on November 16, 2006 from



The Influence of College Environments on Student Drinking United States Department of Education. Retrieved on November 16, 2006 from http://www.ed.gov/pubs/PreventingSubstanceAbuse/Influence.html


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