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Study finds components of ethnic identity as potential protective factors for substance use and hazardous alcohol use among college students

According to scholars, cultural factors such as ethnic identity (i.e. the degree to which one feels a sense of belonging to one’s ethnic group) and ethnic socialization (i.e. the process by which parents or other family caregivers communicate with their children about their ethnic background) may account for variability in the prevalence of and adverse effects of risky sexual behaviors and substance use within specific ethnic minority groups. A new study examined ethnic identity and ethnic socialization as potential protective factors for substance use and sexual risk behaviors among U.S. college students. Participants (N = 398) were African American and Afro-Caribbean students from 30 colleges and universities across the U.S. Data was collected from participants who completed an online survey as part of the Multi-Site University Study of Identity and Culture (MUSIC) research collaborative. The survey measured hazardous alcohol use, which was assessed using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), drug use, which was assessed using the illicit drug use subscale of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBSS), risky sexual behaviors, which was assessed using the sexual risk-taking subscale of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBSS), ethnic identity, using the Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure (MEIM), and ethnic-racial socialization, using the Familial Ethnic Socialization Measure. The authors conducted hierarchical linear and negative binomial regression analyses to determine the degree to which ethnic identity and ethnic/racial socialization predicted the risk behaviors. Results showed that there were significant differences in health risk behavior participation by gender. Men reported higher rates of hazardous alcohol use and sexual risk behaviors such as casual sex, anal sex and sex while drunk or high, while women reported significantly higher rates of unprotected sex than men. With respect to the association between alcohol and other drug use and risky sexual behaviors, positive relationships between hazardous alcohol use and sexual risk behaviors (p <.001) and drug use and sexual risk behaviors (p<.001) were found. Additionally, Ethnic Identity-affirmation, belonging and commitment (EI-ABC) was negatively related to substance use risk (p < .01). After controlling for age and gender, EI-ABC was found to have a significant protective effect for drug use but not risky sexual behaviors with individuals higher on the EI-ABC reporting a lower likelihood of engaging in drug use and hazardous alcohol use.

Take away: Ethnic Identity-affirmation, belonging and commitment significantly predicted lower substance use and hazardous alcohol use among college students. On the other hand, ethnic/racial socialization was not a significant predictor of substance use or sexual risk behaviors.

Heads, A. M. B., Glover, A. M., Castillo, L. G., Blozis, S., & Kim, S. Y. (2017). Dimensions of Ethnic Identity as Protective Factors for Substance Use and Sexual Risk Behaviors in African American College Students. Journal of American College Health, (just-accepted), 00-00.

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