Study Examines Role of Race and Ethnic Background in Coping with Disaster

Through the years, researchers have examined a number of different contributing factors that have led to the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol. Significant traumatic events have been known to lead to the use of drugs and alcohol as individuals seek to cope with the impact of the event.

Researchers from Addictions and the Humanities sought to determine whether people exposed to the World Trade Center attack in 2001 had different addiction-related outcomes as a result of their racial, ethnic or cultural backgrounds.

One study was conducted by Wu et al. (2006) in which researchers sought to study the effect of the World Trade Center attack on increased cigarette and alcohol use. To conduct this study, researchers drew a random sample of high school students in New York City and asked them to complete a survey about their exposure to cigarettes and alcohol after the attack.

Analysis of these surveys revealed that students who were directly exposed to the attack reported increased alcohol use after the World Trade Center attack. In comparing African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans to their non-Hispanic White counterparts, researchers determined that these minority groups were protected from increased alcohol use after the attack.

The Odds Ratio (OR) for African American students was 0.4, for Asian American students the OR was 0.5, and for Hispanic American students the OR was 0.6.

The limitations of this survey include the fact that it was not longitudinal and therefore was impossible to determine if exposure to the World Trade Center attack precipitated the change in smoking and drinking behavior. In addition, since the study only examined high school students in New York City, the results are only relevant in situations where displacement is minimal.

The findings from this analysis are in fact in contrast to the results from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, which found higher alcohol use prevalent rates among Hispanic and non-Hispanic White students compared to African-American students.

Researchers acknowledge that certain cultural values could influence an individual’s likelihood to use or not use alcohol or drugs. At the same time, certain cultures may abuse other substances that are not measured in response to disasters.

To gain a better understanding of whether or not race or ethnic background plays a role in the way people cope with disasters, further studies must be completed. These studies should use comprehensive measures of substance use, focus on cultural differences and follow students over time.