Racial differences in alcohol and tobacco use in adolescence and mid-adulthood in a community-based sample

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2020 Apr;55(4):457-466. doi: 10.1007/s00127-019-01777-9. Epub 2019 Sep 21.


Purpose: Smoking and alcohol use have been posited as possible contributors to racial health disparities, despite higher smoking and alcohol use among non-Hispanic White youth and young adults compared to Blacks. To further investigate this claim, we aim to assess variation in alcohol and cigarette use across two distinct points of the life course.

Method: Data are from a subset of 559 (279 male, 280 female) self-identified Black and White participants of the Child Health and Development study. Self-report alcohol and cigarette use were collected between age 15-17 and at mean age 50. Logistic regressions were estimated; supplementary analyses adjusted for maternal age, prenatal smoking, household income, childhood SES, and education.

Results: White participants were more likely to drink regularly (Odds ratio (OR) 2.2; 95%CI 1.2, 4.0) and be intoxicated (OR 2.0; 95%CI 1.2, 3.2) in adolescence compared with Blacks. In mid-adulthood, Whites remained more likely to currently drink (OR 2.3; 95%CI 1.6, 3.4) but among drinkers, less likely to binge drink (OR 0.4; 95%CI 0.2, 0.8). White participants were less likely to smoke in mid-adulthood (OR 0.4; 95%CI 0.3, 0.6), but among smokers, were more likely to smoke ≥ ½ a pack per day (OR 3.4; 95%CI 1.5, 7.8).

Conclusions: Blacks were less likely to engage in drinking across the life course, but, among drinkers, more likely to binge drink in mid-adulthood. Blacks were more likely to smoke in mid-adulthood, but smoked infrequently compared with Whites. These patterns suggest that a reframing of disparities mechanisms to focus on broader structural and social factors may benefit progress in understanding and ameliorating inequities.

Keywords: Adolescence; Adulthood; Alcohol use; Racial differences; Tobacco use.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • African Americans / psychology
  • African Americans / statistics & numerical data*
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Alcohol Drinking / ethnology*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / psychology
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Tobacco Use / epidemiology
  • Tobacco Use / ethnology*