Change in distress about police brutality and substance use among young people, 2017-2020

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2022 Aug 1:237:109530. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2022.109530. Epub 2022 Jun 10.


Background: It is unknown whether increasing attention to police brutality is a source of stress associated with substance use risk among young people.

Methods: A longitudinal racially/ethnically diverse cohort from Los Angeles, California (n = 1797) completed baseline (2017; mean age: 17.9) and follow-up (2020; mean age: 21.2) surveys assessing level of concern, worry, and stress about police brutality (range: 0 'not at all' - 4 'extremely') and past 30-day nicotine, cannabis, alcohol, other drug, and number of substances used (0-19). Regression models, adjusted for demographic characteristics and baseline substance use, evaluated whether changes in distress about police brutality from 2017 to 2020 were associated with substance use in 2020 overall and stratified by race/ethnicity.

Results: Distress about police brutality increased between 2017 (mean: 1.59) and 2020 (mean: 2.43) overall. Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino respondents consistently had the highest mean distress levels at both timepoints. In the full sample, each one-unit greater increase in distress about police brutality from 2017 to 2020 was associated with 11% higher odds of cannabis use, 13% higher odds of alcohol use, and 8% higher risk of using an additional substance for the number of substances used outcome. Race/ethnicity-stratified models indicated that greater increases in distress from 2017 to 2020 was associated with substance use among Black/African American, Hispanic, and multiracial respondents in 2020, but not Asian American/Pacific Islander and White respondents.

Conclusions: Distress about police brutality may be associated with substance use, particularly among certain racial/ethnic minority young people. Further investigation of whether police brutality affects health in disparity populations is needed.

Keywords: Alcohol; Cannabis; Marijuana; Police brutality; Substance use; Tobacco.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cannabis*
  • Ethnicity
  • Humans
  • Minority Groups
  • Police
  • Racial Groups
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Young Adult