Racial/Ethnic differences in smoking, drinking, and illicit drug use among American high school seniors, 1976-89

Am J Public Health. 1991 Mar;81(3):372-7. doi: 10.2105/ajph.81.3.372.


Background: This paper reports racial/ethnic differences in the use of licit and illicit drugs by high school seniors in the United States.

Methods: The study uses questionnaire data from annual, nationally representative surveys of seniors from 1976 through 1989. Combined sample sizes were 57,620 for 1976-79; 75,772 for 1980-84; and 73,527 for 1985-89.

Results: Native American had the highest prevalence rates for cigarettes, alcohol, and most illicit drugs; White students had the next highest rates for most drugs. Asian Americans had the lowest prevalence rates, and Black students had levels nearly as low except for marijuana. Prevalence rates for the Hispanic groups were mostly in the intermediate ranges except for relatively high cocaine use among the males. Trend patterns for most forms of drug use were similar across subgroups, although cigarette use declined more sharply for Black than White seniors, resulting in greater Black-White differences in recent years.

Conclusions: This study, other school-based studies, and general population surveys all show relatively low levels of drug use by most non-White youth, especially Black Americans and Asian Americans. Multivariate analyses indicate that such subgroup differences in high school seniors' drug use are not primarily attributable to family composition, parents' education, region, or urban-rural distinctions.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / ethnology
  • Asia / ethnology
  • Black People
  • Female
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American
  • Male
  • Mexico / ethnology
  • Sex Factors
  • Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Smoking / ethnology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / ethnology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • White People