Let's try to keep every kid healthy Our Prevention Solutions team works to educate students about alcohol and drug use, and partners with local communities to help build the skills and resources that protect young people from risky behaviors. But we also recognize that many students face increased risk of substance use because of their race, learning style, health diagnoses or other identity traits. In the following article, we discuss the disparities in addiction and health equity across racial and ethnic minority groups, and we focus on how to better support minority students' health and wellness—and prevent against potential substance use. What is a racial or ethnic minority? Why is that relevant to prevention? According to the 2020 U.S. Census, nearly 40 percent of the country identifies as a racial or ethnic minority. But what is a minority? Minorities are people whose cultural identities and experiences differ from those of the majority or dominant group population. A person who belongs to a minority group may differ from the dominant group in ethnicity, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or other aspects of the human condition. When a student belongs to a racial or ethnic minority group, they likely face inequity, systemic racial disparities and other life events that put them at higher risk of alcohol or drug use. But what are those risk factors specifically? The risk factors that affect racial and ethnic minorities Why are some racial and ethnic minorities disproportionately affected by addiction? It's important to remember that race and ethnicity are not risk factors themselves. Rather, when a person belongs to a minority group, they are exposed to systems and institutions of discrimination and disparity, both covert and plainly visible. These systems often restrict healthy opportunities for minorities, and are often the root cause of racial disparities when it comes to economic, educational and environmental outcomes. Here are a few examples of such structural inequalities: Black and Hispanic males and American Indian students experience higher rates of school suspension than their White counterparts do. Minority students are more likely to experience poor living conditions; limited access to medical care; and increased social, economic and environmental risk factors. There's a disparity in criminal punishments for drug offenses, with significantly harsher penalties for minority defendants when compared with White Americans. Discrimination is a chronic stressor for racial and ethnic minorities, and it can negatively affect both physical and mental health. Addiction rates also vary by race and ethnicity as reported on large-scale surveys. For instance, the reported rates of addiction from a 2021 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration are as follows: American Indian or Native Alaskan; Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders: 11% Two or more races reported: 10% Caucasian: 8% Hispanic; Black or African American: 7% Asian: 4% A Boston College student and first-generation student from an immigrant family shares their experience; "Growing up as a [minority group] female, I was never allowed to drink...[In my culture], seeking help for addiction is very taboo." Which protective factors might help to prevent alcohol or drug use? The protective factors against alcohol and other drug misuse also vary by race and ethnicity, but it's important that minority students always have a safe environment that supports them. For instance, the minorities who identify and connect with their racial or ethnic group are more likely to nurture a strong sense of personhood, promoting health and wellness. These communities can provide them with many forms of comfort, support and understanding, and offer protective social relationships. How can educators create an equally supportive environment for minority students? Here are a few ways to create an affirming and accepting school environment that empowers young people to remain free from substance use. Nurture the healthy relationships, behaviors and environments in students' lives. Provide accurate, appropriate health education for students at every age. Know and address the unique challenges a student or student population faces. Provide proactive and tailor-made support based on a student's specific health challenges. Create a sense of belonging and identity for at-risk students through comprehensive prevention efforts. Immediately intervene on any unhealthy student behavior. More specifically, we can take steps to support the health of minority students by: Becoming educated about anti-racist and anti-discriminatory practices. Re-evaluating the internal biases that could negatively impact minority students. Using curricula, lesson plans and media created by and about diverse groups Promoting diversity and positive representations of minority groups Facilitating respectful, minority-inclusive conversations about current events Providing safe spaces for minority students to share thoughts and emotions Supporting cultural shifts in our communities that help dismantle discrimination We all have a role in removing health inequities for the children we care for and the students we teach. By providing meaningful protections and healthy opportunities for every student, educators can be active agents in prevention, helping to keep all healthy kids healthy. References Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2021). Racial/ethnic differences in substance use, substance use disorders, and substance use treatment utilization among people aged 12 or older (2015-2019) (Publication No. PEP21-07-01-001). Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/ Goosby, B.J., Cheadle, J.E., and Mitchell, C. (2018). Stress-related biosocial mechanisms of discrimination and African American health inequities. Annual Review of Sociology, 44: 319–340. doi:10.1146/annurev-soc-060116-053403 Rosenberg, A., Groves, A.K., and Blankenship, K.M. (2016) Comparing Black and White Drug Offenders: Implications for Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice and Reentry Policy and Programming. Journal of Drug Issues vol. 47(1): (2017): 132–142. doi:10.1177/0022042616678614 U.S. Department of Education. (2020). Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). Retrieved January 10, 2020, from https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/data.html.