Effects of Alcohol on African American Teens


Alcohol abuse among the teens presents serious health and social concerns.

In particular, underage drinking is linked to many adverse health effects such as memory loss, impaired neurological development, and poor academic performance among the youth. The social effects are even more disturbing. Risky sexual behaviors, impaired decision-making, drug addiction, substance abuse, youth crime, violence, and dangerous driving are some of the effects associated with youth alcohol abuse. While alcohol abuse may be attributed to a number of factors, alcohol advertising is a significant contributing factor to youth alcohol abuse. Drinking patterns among youth of different races is different.

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Previous studies involving comparisons of drinking patterns and their effects upon the white and African Americans reveal that alcohol is the most abused drug among the African American youth (Wallace et al., 1999, p.806). This implies that the differences in culture, historical perspectives and worldviews with regard to alcohol consumption have significant influence on behavior patterns involving the Whites and the African American youths. National surveys have established that “heavy drinking among remained high among African Americans of age group 18-29, while it declined for Whites of the same age group between 1984 and 1995” (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2004, p. 2). However, the African Americans show comparatively higher rates of alcohol abstention compared to their White or Hispanic counterparts.

In 2003, the monthly alcohol use for African Americans stood at 54.4% compared to 41.5% and 24.2% of Whites and Hispanics respectively (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2004, p. 4). Among the risk factors for the relatively high alcohol use among African Americans, are the liberal parental attitudes towards drinking, high number of alcohol stores in residential areas and effects of advertisements. Alcohol abuse has many social and health effects that affect African American teens compared to any other youths across the world.

Alcohol Abuse among African American Teens

Alcohol is one of the drugs commonly abused by teens particularly among the African American youth.

With regard to binge drinking and heavy alcohol use among teens older than 12 years, African Americans lead with 43% of them abusing alcohol compared to 38% Whites (Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, 2005). This indicates that heavy alcohol use or alcohol dependence is highest among the African American teens than any other group. However, according to the same report, African American youth drink less in a given duration than other youths. In 2003, 19.8% of African American teens compared to 31.

6% of whites of between12 and 20 years abused alcohol within the last month. Additionally, only 7% of African American youth compared to 21.7 % of Whites of between 12 and 20 years engaged in “binge drinking” within the last 30 days (Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, 2005). Gender differences exist, where alcohol consumption is high among male youth compared to female. Nevertheless, in overall, alcohol consumption among African American is still highest and has the most significant effects upon African Americans compared to other youth.

In contrast, illicit drug use among the youth is lowest among African American teens compared to other groups. According to Caetano, Clark, and Tam (1998, p. 233), African American youth consume fewer drugs compared to White or Hispanic youth. However, substance abuse in all the youth groups starts at an average age of 12. Although African American youths are less prone to illicit drug use, they are more affected socially by substance abuse (Hawkins, Catalano, & Miller, 1992, p.

67). This explains the high social and health effects of drug use among African Americans compared to other youth. Further, according to Johnson et al., (2005), African Americans are “less likely to experiment with illicit drugs than Whites are, but are more prone to addiction to the same drugs than White youths” (p. 27).

In other words, the consequences of drug use are more serious in African American youth than any other group. In addition, the risk factors for the apparent high alcohol use among the African American youth are many. In particular, the attitudes of parents towards drinking, directly or indirectly, influence the drinking patterns among the youth. According to Hawkins et al. (1992, p. 75), liberal drinking attitudes or parental substance abuse will more likely lead to liberal drinking attitudes on the youth, which results to frequent drinking. By implication, liberal attitudes of African American adults towards drinking or substance abuse due to the cultural significance attached, contributes to drinking patterns experienced among African American youth.

The high concentration of liquor stores is arguably another risk factor for alcohol abuse among youth. Further, Wallace et al., (1999, p.801) argue that drinking problems among the African American youth are a result of primarily trying to cope with stress through avoidance. In comparison, the White youth do not abuse alcohol as a means of avoiding stress. Of most significance, however, is the effect of the media on drinking patterns among African American youth.

Youth Alcohol Use and Family Influence

In African American homes, parent alcohol use strongly influences alcohol use among adolescents.

(Johnson et al., 2005, p. 31) argues that, the parent or peer modeling with regard to alcohol use is predictive of adolescent alcohol abuse.

This indicates the relative importance of parents or peers in influencing alcohol use among youth. Use of alcohol or drugs by siblings or family members also indirectly influences alcohol consumption through its impact on family relationships or parenting in general (Hawkins et al., 1992, p. 103). According to Caetano et al., “the risk factors for problem behavior among the youth are as a result of family substance abuse or poor parenting practices” (1998, p. 236). Thus, family involvement in alcohol use is predictive of later development of alcohol abuse among adolescents.

Interactions between parents and their children also influence the development of problematic behavior patterns at their teens. Additionally, the interactions influence the early onset of alcohol use and substance use. Wong et al. (2004, p. 129) argue that, poor interactions between parents and children often result to early substance or alcohol use among adolescents. Further, family cohesion, serves to delay the onset of alcohol consumption among adolescents. In contrast, strained family relationships are risk factors to early alcohol use. Additionally, factors such as economic hardships often result to strained family relations, which result to early alcohol use among adolescents.

Demographically, a high percentage of African Americans youth behavior is influenced by family or parental relationships. Economic constraints increase family conflicts, which disrupt parenting and by extension, family relationships. Raising children under these stressful conditions may compromise close supervision and discipline, which makes children prone to problematic behavior including but not limited to alcohol abuse. Indeed, other factors such as divorce or unemployment are predictive of children behavioral problems (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2007). In this context, studies reveal that prevalence rates for alcohol use is high among minority youths including the African American youth. Welte and Barnes (1987, p.333) established that, the prevalence rate for alcohol use is high among the African American youth though early initiation is high among the White youth. White parents also take a more proactive role in managing their family through close monitoring of the children.

Consequently, the White youth are less likely to exhibit problematic behaviors especially with regard to substance use. In contrast, fewer protective factors for African American youth imply that they have a high likelihood of engaging in drug or alcohol use early in their teens. Among African American youth, heavy drinking relates to low income, while among White youth, it relates to high income or affluence.

The Effects of Advertisements

The youth culture among African American youth is associated with alcoholic products’ advertisements.

This occurs through print media, radio and television advertisements, and musical and video content. The media alcohol advertisements have the most profound effects among African American youth than any other group. According to a Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth report, 77% of African American youth viewed more alcohol ads on the media than non-African American youth in 2002 (2003, p. 2).

In particular, “beer, spirits and other alcohol drinks’ advertisements on magazines, on average, reached more African American youth audience of age 21-34” (Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, 2003, p.1). This age group is the target audience of most print media advertisements. In contrast, the same report indicates that while 83% of Whites saw print media alcohol ads on magazines, 96% of African American viewed a higher number of alcohol ads over the same period (Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, 2003, p.1). With regard to radio advertising and music, African American youth listened to more alcohol advertising than a non-African American of the same age bracket in 2002. This provides evidence of the high media influence on drinking patterns among the youth particularly the African American youth. In addition, contemporary music hits, popular among the African American youth such as hip-hop, R&B and rap account for most of the alcohol ads.

Of concern is the popularity of this music among underage youth, which influences underage drinking among the African American youth. The effects of popular music are far-reaching because of their frequent reference to alcohol. Songs such as rap, rock and hippo, which are popular among African American youth, make more references to alcohol thus indirectly influencing their drinking patterns. According to Alaniz (1998, p. 286), 48% of popular rap songs between 1996 and 1997 refer to specified brands of alcohol. In television advertisements, popular programs are accompanied with beer advertisements with majority involving a relatively high number of African American youth.

Effects of Alcohol Advertising on Alcohol Consumption

Most often, alcohol advertisements use techniques that are appealing to the youth who form the target audience of such ads. In particular, certain aspects of alcohol advertising are more appealing to the youth compared to adults.

It is this marketing strategy and the popularity of media used to carry such ads that influence underage drinking among the youth especially the African American youth. Alaniz notes that, components of alcohol ads such as music, animation, popular music and humor are more appealing to the youth (1998, p.292). Endorsements by popular celebrities also influence adolescents to engage in underage drinking.

Peer influence compounded by the message content of the alcohol ads encourages the youth to buy and use alcohol products. Normally, the ads, especially those with celebrity endorsements, imply that drinking leads to popularity or social success. These effects are more pronounced among African Americans compared to the other youth group. Evidently, alcohol advertising has potential influence on youth drinking patterns particularly with regard to the onset of drinking, alcohol addiction and the levels of alcohol consumption. These have more influence on African American youth leading to alcohol addiction, antisocial behaviors and adverse health effects from alcohol overconsumption.

Alcohol advertising has a direct relationship with the onset of drinking among the youth. It shapes the attitudes and perceptions of youth with regard to their expectations of alcohol consumption, which ultimately influences their drinking decisions (Maddahian et al., 1998, p. 19).

As a result, more often, interactions among the youth revolve around alcohol ads, internalizing the messages, and later engage in the actual drinking. Among African American youths, trends where alcohol advertising, through television and music, influences the onset of drinking are common. According to Alaniz, increased access to information about beer during promotions or passive alcohol ads on radio or music is predictive of early onset of drinking (1998, p. 287). Outdoor advertising of alcohol near schools is a considerable risk factor of early onset of drinking. A study established that, “schools with more than 20% Hispanic or African American students experience more alcohol advertising than schools with less Hispanic or African American youth” (Welte & Barnes, 1987, p.336). Outdoor advertising also influences the level of consumption or “binge drinking” among the youth of African American descent.

According to Maddahian et al., (1998, p. 17), a direct relationship exists between “binge drinking” and alcohol advertising. In other words, more alcohol advertising influences more drinking among the youth. By implication, since more African American youth watch alcohol advertising on the media than any youth, they are bound to drink more than any group.

Effects of Alcohol on African American Teens

Heavy alcohol consumption among African American youth raises much concern especially due to its adverse social and health effects. In particular, alcohol related mortalities resulting from risky behaviors due to alcohol influence are high among African American than White groups.

Bry, McKeon, and Pandina study revealed that, mortality rates related to alcohol remained consistently high between 1979 and 1989 compared to White youth in the same period (1991, p.273). Among the risky behaviors that often result to deaths or fatal injuries, include drunken driving, risky sexual behaviors, and violent criminal activities. Welte and Barnes (1987) posit that, among African American youths of 12-20 years, “the three leading causes of fatalities include suicide, fatal injuries and homicide” (p.337). These causes often arise in situations of heavy alcohol consumption and/or substance abuse.

This shows that African American youths are prone to homicide or suicide due to the influence of alcohol or substance abuse. Additionally, alcohol related illnesses are alarming high among African American youth compared to White youth. Alcohol addiction and alcohol related disorders such as liver cirrhosis, affect a large number of African American adults due to heavy alcohol consumption in their teenage years. The disparity arises because African American youths engage in heavy alcohol consumption or “binge drinking” for the better part of their lives compared to White youth. Thus, late onset alcohol-related illnesses are relatively high among African American youth than White youth. As they age, African Americans suffer a high number of alcohol-related disorders than any racial group in the population. Though Whites and African Americans exhibit similar frequency of heavy drinking, African Americans are more likely to develop fatal alcohol related illnesses such as liver cirrhosis or die of alcohol related car accidents (Bry, McKeon, & Pandina, 1998, p. 274).

Additionally alcohol and substance abuse is related to poor academic performance among youth attending schools or colleges. Alcohol consumption among African American youth often results from high alcohol dependence compared to other youth. In this context, racial and personal identities play a significant role. In general, youth behavior reflects youth’s self-perception, which influences his or her decision to experiment with drugs including alcohol. Caetano et al., (1998, p.

234) argues that, African American youths identify more with African American and African cultures as a way of defining their sense of self. He suggests that personal identity or racial group identity among African American is high. In most African cultures, alcohol consumption is a common practice during traditional ceremonies or spiritual occasions.

Alcohol Consumption and Youth Violence

High intake of alcohol is one of the risk factors that fuels youth violence.

Youth violence entails different forms of violence ranging from gang violence, sexual violence and bullying. Alcohol related youth violence is considerably high among African American youth than any youth (Maddahian et al., 1998, p.

21). The links between alcohol and youth violence with particular regard to African American youth are many. Societal and cultural beliefs among African American youth, with regard to the effects of alcohol such as rise in confidence or aggression following alcohol consumption, make the youth more prone to violence or perpetrators of violence. Additionally, the youth consume alcohol in preparation for fights or engagement in violence, which can sometimes be fatal. In this case, witnessing of aggression or violence encourages alcohol over consumption as a way of coping with the traumatic violent experiences. Furthermore, among African American youth alcohol consumption is associated with certain rituals of culture gangs.

These gangs often engage in violent practices or social problems such as crime (SAMHSA, 2008). Other alcohol effects on African American youth include partner violence or aggression, which feature in relationship among the youth. In general, among African American youth, alcohol consumption influence personal and group identity that in turn affect outcomes such as the tendency to engage in violence, academic performance, substance use and juvenile delinquency (Caetano et al., 1998, 238). African Americans are mostly group drinkers consuming alcohol in groups as friends or family. Therefore, alcohol use among African American youth results to a strong identification with a group, which causes social problems such as violence or aggression, poor academic performance and drug use.


Alcohol consumption among the youth raises much concern especially due to its health and social consequences. In general, on average, African Americans drink less heavily compared to White or Hispanic youth but experience many alcohol-related complications such as liver cirrhosis.

Among the risk factors, which contribute to heavy alcohol consumption among African American youth include the family influence through a parent or sibling alcohol use, lack of family cohesion and poor parenting practices. Additionally, factors such as cultural and personal attitudes, which are more, pronounced among African American youth influences their drinking habits. The health effects of alcohol consumption include liver cirrhosis and other alcohol-related illnesses that are high among African Americans. Youth violence, high cases of homicides, suicides and risky behaviors are the other alcohol effects among African American youth. Because of numerous alcohol abuse risk factors, alcohol use affects African Americans more than any other youths.

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