Ethnicity and Adolescent Alcohol Use

In an alternative to AA, a self- empowering addiction treatment program allows each unique individual to target specific risk factors that led them to drink or use. Here, we explore research that suggests a link between ethnicity and adolescent alcohol use.

According to the deviance proneness model, alcohol use develops in adolescence as a pattern of deviant behavior. This deviant behavior may be influenced by parental history of substance abuse, social relationship with deviant peers, personality variables, alcohol expectancies, and other variables. Studies suggest that ethnic differences may also affect the development of alcohol abuse and the outcome of alcohol treatment. Researchers from the University of Connecticut evaluated a deviance proneness model for ethnic differences in the development of adolescent alcohol use (Chartier, Hesselbrock & Hesselbrock, 2009).

You might also be interested in: Peers and Adolescent Drinking Behavior

The Study

The researchers examined the effect of ethnicity on relationships between negative affect, conduct problems, alcohol expectancies, paternal substance dependence, parental educational attainment, and drinking outcomes among 323 black, white, and Hispanic adolescents. The researchers expected conduct problems, positive alcohol expectancies, and socioeconomic status to mediate effects of negative affect and paternal history of substance abuse on frequency of drinking and age of onset of regular drinking.

Participants were 57.9 percent female and 60.7 percent white and between the ages of 14 and 21. Participants and their fathers were interviewed at baseline, and the participants were interviewed at a 5-year follow-up period. The researchers used a structural equation model to test the deviance proneness model’s ability to predict drinking behaviors and evaluate ethnic differences.


Results showed that ethnicity moderation pathways linked to the onset of regular drinking but not to the frequency of drinking. For black participants, an increase in the number of childhood conduct problems predicted on earlier onset of regular drinking. For white and Hispanic participants, positive alcohol expectancies predicted earlier onset of regular drinking. The results suggest that risk factors for adolescent alcohol use vary according to ethnicity, and alcohol treatment efforts should take these ethnic differences into consideration. Alcohol treatment and prevention programs may be more effective when they target specific risk factors for different ethnic groups.

“Identifying the ethnic group differences in factors that affect alcohol use may build on existing research by providing a better understanding of the possible determinants of alcohol-use disorders and may help to tailor prevention interventions to adolescents of specific ethnicities,” the authors conclude. “The adaptation of prevention interventions to a specific ethnic group requires an understanding of the group’s unique pathways to alcohol use.”

“Prevention interventions for white and Hispanic adolescents may focus on addressing positive beliefs about the effects of alcohol, whereas programs for black adolescents may target populations in which conduct problems are more prevalent.” The authors continue stating “Further examination of these and other ethnic group differences in the predictors of alcohol use, as well as their implications for prevention, is needed.”

In Alcoholics Anonymous, there is one traditional treatment plan that everyone must follow. Although each person has a unique situation for their addiction problems, AA only offers the same 12 step program for everyone to follow. By creating an individualized treatment program, each person will be able to attain their unique goals in recovery.

See also: Peers and Adolescent Drinking Behavior

Chartier KG, Hesselbrock MN, Hesselbrock VM. Ethnicity and adolescent pathways to alcohol use. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 2009; 70(3): 337-345.