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Dr. Haslyn Hunte, Purdue University – Discrimination and Substance Abuse

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Haslyn Hunte of Purdue University reveals the connection between the perception of unfair treatment and substance abuse.

Haslyn Hunte is an assistant professor of health and kinesiology at Purdue University where he serves as director of the Social Environment and Health Workgroup. His current focus includes studying the impact of perceived discrimination as a psychosocial stressor on health outcomes and on maladaptive coping behaviors, such as smoking, drinking, and substance abuse. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan.

About Dr. Hunte

Dr. Haslyn Hunte – Discrimination and Substance Abuse

At some point in our lives, after experiencing a stressful event or after having a very stressful experience with someone, we may have wished we could escape, even if it was just for a minute.  During these times, some of us may drink our favorite alcoholic beverage, eat a good piece of pie or even go for a long run to relieve our stress.

In fact, previous studies of individuals from varied backgrounds and ages, who reported being treated unfairly or discriminated against, one form of stress, tend to report higher levels of alcohol use, prescription misuse and illicit drug use.  With this idea in mind, my colleague, Adam Barry, and I decided to see if higher levels of unfair treatment were associated with a clinical diagnosis of alcohol and drug abuse and dependence.

Using a national study of African Americans and Black Caribbeans, we examined whether reports of unfair treatment or what is sometimes called perceived discrimination was associated with a DSM diagnosis of alcohol and drug use disorders.  The data does suggest that African Americans and Black Caribbeans who reported higher levels of unfair treatment were about 2-12% more likely to have problematic use behaviors, such as repeatedly driving a car under the influence or continued use of alcohol/drugs even though the person knows that their behavior is causing a strain in their personal relationships. 

These results are not to suggest that Blacks and African Americans are somehow weak.  Not all individuals in the study who experienced discrimination had a problematic behavior.  Plus because the study did not ask Whites, the other group in the study, if they misused drugs and alcohol, we were not able to test this relationship among Whites. In future studies, not only will we try to determine if this same relationship exists among other groups, like Whites; we are also planning future studies to better understand how individuals who experience stress like discrimination successfully cope.  


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