Unkindness associated with racism has been linked to health issues for some time. During the 1980s, researchers reported a connection between poor cardiovascular health and the discrimination experienced by African Americans. This led to additional findings that established a link between health issues in minorities and perceived discriminatory treatment. Recent research supports the finding that discrimination is bad for physical and mental health. It also puts the victims of discrimination at risk for binge drinking.
Binge Drinking and Coping with Discriminatory Stress
According to Paul Gilbert, Assistant Professor at the University of Iowa, many people deal with stress by drinking alcohol. Stress-related drinking is seen as a coping mechanism, even though drinking to relieve stress can cause additional stress.
Professor Gilbert was curious about whether the stress of being discriminated against would increase the probability that the target of the discriminatory behavior would cope with the experience by binge drinking. Gilbert and his research team gathered information from six online databases about the relationship between drinking and discrimination. They selected 1,200 studies on this topic that met certain criteria.
Ninety-seven peer-reviewed research papers published between 1980 and 2015 showed evidence of a connection between heavy drinking and being the recipient of discriminatory treatment. Almost 75 percent of the discrimination examined in these papers was racial; 25 percent was related to gender and sexual orientation. Seventy-one of the 97 papers examined the effects of interpersonal mistreatment such as racial slurs directed toward African Americans in social settings. The researchers concluded that being targeted by racism increases the risk for alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction. The results of this study were published in the online Journal of Social Science & Medicine in June, 2016.
Additional Research Is Needed
According to Professor Gilbert, additional studies are needed to determine whether the drinking is more closely related to internal or external discrimination. Internal discrimination is when members of a minority internalize racism to the point where they hate themselves and/or the minority group to which they belong.
Gilbert also suggests that future studies examine whether discrimination-related alcohol abuse is linked to more than just binge drinking. For example, is there a connection between being discriminated against and alcohol addiction, DUIs, and automobile accidents? Does drinking related to discriminatory treatment have social, family and employment-related consequences?
Further research is also needed to clarify what kind of alcohol abuse is most closely associated with discriminatory treatment. Does discrimination lead only to periodic or occasional drinking, or does it also lead to heavy drinking and/or chronic drinking?
Racial Prejudice and Substance Abuse in Latinos
A 2014 study published in Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology examined the link between racial prejudice and substance abuse in Hispanic and Latino men and women. Men reported a higher incidence of being discriminated against, and they had a higher incidence of alcohol abuse and drug abuse than women. Discrimination was associated with a higher risk of drug abuse in men and a higher risk of alcohol addiction in women.
Are Drinking And Drugging Considered An Acceptable Coping Mechanism?
In a 2012 study at Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire, researchers found a link between coping mechanisms, alcohol addiction, drug addiction and being discriminated against.
The researchers found that those who considered drugs and alcohol to be an acceptable way to cope with stress increased their use of substances after being discriminated against. On the other hand, those who did not see drugs and alcohol as an appropriate way to cope with stress did not indulge in binge drinking or turn to drugs because of race-related mistreatment.
Chronic Substance Abuse Linked to Long-Term Discrimination
A 2012 study by Haslyn E.R. Hunte and Adam Barry published in the American Journal of Public Health indicated that African Americans who believe themselves to be victims of racism are more likely to use substances to help them cope with the perceived discriminatory treatment.
African Americans who feel that they have been chronically discriminated against and treated unkindly over a long period of time are more likely to abuse substances and to develop long-term problems with drugs and alcohol. They are also at risk for drug and alcohol addiction. Dr. Hunte believes that anyone who treats African Americans who have substance abuse problems needs to be aware of how long-term exposure to racism can affect the mental and emotional health of their clients.