Minority College Student Alcohol Abuse: Prevalence, Resources, & Treatment
Fewer minority college students drink than their white classmates, but they tend to face more consequences for drinking. Addiction prevention and treatment for minority students should address the effects of discrimination.
Drinking alcohol is a popular activity in college. However, studies focused on drinking among minority college students in the United States are lacking.
Research does show that fewer American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN), Black, and Hispanic college students drink than their white counterparts but face more consequences when they do drink.
Ensuring that these students are educated about these negative effects and have access to preventative care can go a long way, including steps to prevent alcohol use disorders.
Alcohol Abuse Among Minority College Students
Although further research into minority college student alcohol use is needed, much of the current research shows that these students tend to drink less than their white peers.
When they do drink, however, they report more consequences, including alcohol-related health problems, and behavioral consequences, including legal issues.
There are several reasons for this, some of which include discrimination and higher rates of binge drinking among students who do drink.
Education about the consequences that can occur due to drinking and other addiction prevention measures can help reduce alcohol abuse among these students.
When alcohol addiction treatment is needed, a focus on discrimination’s role can help treatment care teams best serve minority students.
American Indian/Alaska Native College Students And Alcohol Use
A recent survey showed that daily AI/AN student alcohol use rates were significantly lower than the rates of alcohol use for their white peers.
However, far fewer AI/AN college students complete their degree programs when compared to other college students in the U.S., at a rate of about 40% compared to 59%.
Some believe that AI/AN students drop out at higher rates due to a lack of support, financial resources, and education preparedness.
Another survey showed that Alaskan AI/AN college students reported greater alcohol-related consequences than non-AI/AN students did.
These consequences might include the inability to complete their degree program, an issue that any student who drinks may experience.
Black College Students And Alcohol Use
Black college students tend to drink at about half the rate as their white peers. Unfortunately, the Black students who do drink are statistically more likely to face negative consequences.
These consequences include a higher rate of alcohol-related health problems, mental health issues, and negative encounters with law enforcement.
Research into this phenomenon revealed that identity may play a crucial role in the way Black college students view alcohol use.
Black Americans with a positive cultural identity were less likely to experience mental health disorders and behavioral challenges related to alcohol use.
Black Americans who were more likely to rationalize disparities in treatment were also more likely to experience chronic health issues related to alcohol.
Although Black college students drink less than white college students, they are more likely to develop alcohol abuse later in life, whereas white students tend to reduce their drinking after graduation.
Hispanic College Students And Alcohol Use
Like AI/AN and Black college students, Hispanic college students are also less likely to drink alcohol than their white counterparts but face steeper consequences when they do.
The rate of drinking among Hispanic college students is closer to that of white college students than the rates for Blacks and AI/ANs.
Research has shown that Hispanic college students who have adapted to Anglo culture are more likely to drink, especially Hispanic women.
However, other research has indicated that the opposite may be true for Hispanic men — that the less acculturated they are, the more at risk they are for heavy drinking in college.
More research into this demographic is needed, but what is clear is that Hispanic Americans who do drink tend to drink more heavily than their white counterparts.
Other Minority Groups And Alcohol Use
Further research is needed to assess the relationship between other minority groups and college drinking, but existing studies show that drinking is an issue for these college students as well.
For example, the number of Middle Eastern college students who drink almost matches that of white students.
A recent survey showed that nearly 50% of Middle Eastern college students reported drinking in the past month, compared to 53% of white college students.
Factors that influenced this group’s drinking included age, independent living, and a more secular approach to their culture.
Among Asian American college students, acculturation seems to factor into their drinking similar to the way it does for Hispanic college students.
A study of 630 male college students showed that first-generation Asian American college students drank less than second-generation Asian American students did.
Second-generation Asian American students’ rates of heavy drinking matched those of their white counterparts.
Treatment Options For Alcohol Abuse Among Minority Students
Although fewer minority college students drink alcohol than their white counterparts, those that do tend to engage in heavier drinking, such as binge drinking and high-intensity drinking.
Binge drinking (four drinks or more for women or five or more for men) is common among college students. Some college students report drinking twice as much in episodes of high-intensity drinking.
This level of drinking can increase the risk of:
- accidental death, such as motor-vehicle crashes
- alcohol use disorder
- assault by other students
- sexual assault by other students
- academic problems
- unsafe sexual behavior
- driving under the influence
- mental health issues such as suicide attempts
- police involvement
Addiction treatment for minority students is especially important due to the disproportionate consequences these students experience when they drink.
Several evidence-based treatments exist that can help minority students experiencing alcohol abuse.
Motivational interviewing (MI) is a type of counseling that acknowledges the difficulty involved in making life changes and helps people develop their own reasons for overcoming addiction.
This can help them identify any neutral feelings about their addiction and any related personal insecurities to draw on their own strength of will.
MI can be especially helpful for people belonging to minority groups, who often experience discrimination due to their minority status rather than gaining a sense of pride from it.
It’s important that MI involves accommodation for cultural differences so that people are empowered by the therapy.
A recently successful, culturally relevant use of MI for AI/AN young people involved using a common Native American trope, the “trickster,” in discussions about alcohol and drug use.
Culturally Competent Mental Health Counseling
Discrimination, or the unfair treatment of a person based on their ethnicity, gender identity, age, etc., is a big risk factor for alcohol abuse among minority college students.
According to the American Psychological Association, common effects of discrimination include:
- feeling like an outsider
- perceiving the self as being “less than”
- pressure to defy stereotypes and represent a community
- depression, anger, anxiety, or a sense of helplessness
Counselors, therapists, and addiction specialists who recognize these effects can provide better professional support and care.
Different minority groups also have different protective factors that prevent or reduce alcohol use in college, and these factors might aid in their treatment should addiction develop.
For example, Black college students who have a strong racial identity are less likely to drink alcohol, as are all Black young people with a strong racial identity.
Other protective factors for this group include positive parental, spiritual, and peer influences, since drinking alcohol is less among Black students than it is among white students.
When AI/AN students have strong cultural ties, even when living away from home, they’re also less likely to use substances like alcohol
Dual Diagnosis Screening
Discrimination is a risk factor for alcohol abuse for many minority college students, as it can also lead to anxiety, stress, depression, and feelings of worthlessness.
Among Black college students, a clear link has been established between alcohol use, discrimination, and mental health issues.
In fact, among all groups of people, addiction often co-occurs with other mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety disorders.
Screening for co-occurring mental health conditions can help addiction treatment specialists provide the best care and offer a more whole-person approach.
This can lead to improved recovery results and a reduced likelihood of relapse, which can help people in minority groups avoid consequences related to drinking.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has proved to be an effective way of treating both substance use disorders and other mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.
CBT addresses distortions in thought that can lead to unhealthy behaviors in order to develop coping mechanisms and emotional regulation.
Therapists can use CBT to address oppression as well as the discrimination minority college students may face, currently or in their family history.
Rather than working to change a particular negative thought that may be true for many people in minority groups, therapists are urged to expand the thought.
In this case, a sentiment such as “the world is a dangerous place” isn’t rejected, which could further marginalize the person, but instead is expanded on: “but it isn’t always, and my community will prevail.”
Preventing Alcohol Abuse Among Minority College Students
Education regarding the negative consequences minority college students face is one way to help prevent alcohol use among these students.
Expanding mental health resources available to minority college students could also go a long way in preventing alcohol abuse.
Below, we’ve provided a number of existing resources that can help to prevent alcohol abuse for minority students.
Resources For AI/AN College Students Experiencing Alcohol Abuse
There are more than 500 AI/AN tribes recognized in the United States. Keeping this great cultural diversity in mind can help addiction specialists provide the best care.
The following resources provide assistance for AI/AN college students seeking alcohol addiction help:
- Indian Health Service’s “For Patients”: Find out if you are eligible for services offered by IHS and locate care providers.
- Unspoken Words Podcast: Listen to stories about substance abuse from the Native American hosts of this podcast, who aim to promote the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of AI/AN people.
- Rural Health Information Hub: resources from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for AI/AN people experiencing substance abuse.
- White Bison: a Native American-operated nonprofit dedicated to culturally relevant prevention and treatment of substance abuse among AI/AN people.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s Office of Indian Alcohol and Substance Abuse: addiction prevention and treatment resources for AI/AN people from the federal government.
Resources For Black College Students Experiencing Alcohol Abuse
Preventing alcohol use among Black college students might help lower the number of Black Americans who go on to develop an addiction to alcohol later in life.
The following resources offer a good starting point for Black college students looking for help with alcohol addiction:
- SAFE Project’s Addiction & Mental Health Resources for the Black Community: free addiction and mental health resources for Black Americans, including stories of recovery
- Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM): a wide variety of wellness tools, programs, and other resources in support of Black Americans’ mental health
- Sober Black Girls Club Podcast: stories of recovery and a sober lifestyle from the two young Black American women who host the podcast and the people they interview
- Imani Breakthrough Project: a recovery program for members of the Black community that focuses on faith
- National Association of Black Counselors: An organization dedicated to helping Black Americans find addiction treatment and other mental health services
Resources For Hispanic College Students Experiencing Alcohol Abuse
Addressing college drinking overall and Helping Hispanic college students find healthy ways to bond with their classmates could help prevent alcohol abuse among this population.
The following resources can aid Hispanic college students looking for help with alcohol addiction:
- SAFE Project’s Addiction & Mental Health Resources for the Latinx and Hispanic Communities: free resources for Latino and Hispanic Americans experiencing addiction or other mental health issues
- Checking In Podcast: interviews with people working to establish mental health and addiction treatment equity for Hispanic Americans
- SAMHSA’s Hispanic/Latino Behavioral Health Equity: national surveys, federal initiatives, and other resources that shine a light on substance abuse and other mental health issues among Hispanic Americans, with some resources available in Spanish
- Mental Health America’s Latinx and Hispanic Communities and Mental Health: a wide variety of Spanish-language addiction and mental health resources for Latino and Hispanic people
- Yeah No, I’m Not OK Podcast: Latina actor Diane Guerrero hosts this podcast focused on substance abuse and other mental health issues experienced by Latinos and other people of color.
Resources For All Minority College Students Experiencing Alcohol Abuse
Many minority college students can benefit from mental health services to help prevent or treat alcohol abuse.
The following resources may be helpful for any minority college student looking for help with alcohol addiction:
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)’s Rethinking Drinking: resources for identifying substance abuse in yourself and finding help, also available in Spanish
- Mental Health America’s Racism and Mental Health: mental health resources and information for people of color
- FindTreatment.gov: a government resource to help people find and pay for treatment for alcohol or drug abuse
- Alcoholics Anonymous Videos for Young People: Young people share their stories of living with and recovering from alcohol abuse.
Resources For Colleges To Help Minority Students Experiencing Alcohol Abuse
Colleges can take steps to reduce discrimination on their campuses and address the particular mental health needs of their minority students.
Here are some resources for getting started:
- SAMHSA’s College Drinking: Prevention Perspectives: a close look at one university’s success with reducing harmful drinking on campus
- SAMHSA’s Native Connections: resources for helping reduce substance abuse and other mental health conditions among young AI/AN people
- SAMHSA’s “Talk. They Hear You” Campaign: resources for educators, parents, and community members to help prevent substance abuse among young people
- SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Among College Students Information & Resource Kit: resources related to preventing alcohol abuse among college students and promoting mental health care
- Campus Drug Prevention: a wide range of guides, webinars, podcasts, and other resources to help prevent drinking and drug use among college students
- NIAAA’s College Drinking: Changing the Culture: plentiful resources for helping colleges reduce drinking among their students
- U.S. Department of Justice’s “Campus Safety” Special Feature: free publications, multimedia, and other resources related to alcohol and drug use among college students
- Addictive Behaviors — Race- and university-specific norms associated with alcohol use among Black college students https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306460322002532?dgcid=rss_sd_all
- Arizona State University — Racial discrimination linked to drinking through mental health in Black college students https://news.asu.edu/20210901-racial-discrimination-linked-drinking-through-mental-health-black-college-students
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) — Alcohol and the Hispanic Community https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-and-hispanic-community
- NIAAA — College Drinking https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/college-drinking