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Substance Abuse In African American College Students

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Autor:   •  April 8, 2011  •  3,574 Words (15 Pages)  •  1,264 Views

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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;

Ð'* To assess the attitudes, knowledge and behaviors of entering freshmen at HBCUs regarding alcohol, marijuana and other illicit drugs

Ð'* To determine the extent of problem behavior as it relates to substance abuse on these HBCUs

Ð'* To identify protective and/or risk factors for substance use in entering freshmen at HBCUs

Ð'* 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


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