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Racial discrimination-induced anger and alcohol use among Black adolescents.

Alcohol continues to be the most common form of drug used among America's youth (Clark & Scheid, 2002). Based on data provided in the Office of Applied Studies, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA, 2006) 2004 report by the National Household Survey of Drug Abuse (NHSDA), an estimated 7.6% of individuals between 12 to 17 years of age had consumed alcohol during the previous month. The NHSDA data further indicated that males had a higher rate of alcohol consumption than females and that 7.9% of the White population compared to 6.5% of the Black population within this age range had consumed some form of alcohol within the past 30 days at the time of the survey.

A common theory that has been proposed to explain the etiology of alcoholism is the so-called stress theory (Willerman & Cohen, 1990), which argues that at least some individuals begin to drink in order to reduce their stress level. Thus, the use of alcohol for some may represent a form of self-medication to reduce anxiety and other uncomfortable feelings. Research does seem to indicate that some individuals tend to drink in order to relieve tension. For example, Lipscomb, Nathan, Wilson and Abrams (1980), administered high and low doses of alcohol to young males who were apprehensive about interacting with a female confederate. These investigators found that the larger the amount of alcohol consumed, the more participants reported feeling less tension prior to asking the female for a date.

Anger has recently been defined as a syndrome of relatively specific feelings, cognitions, and physiological reactions that are linked with an urge to injure some target (Berkowitz & Harmon-Jones, 2004). According to these theorists, anger tends to be aroused when an individual is prevented from attaining an important goal or interfered with in the fulfillment of a need by an external agent's improper action. A common manifestation of anger is aggression (Berkowitz & Harmon-Jones, 2004). However, among some populations and in some situations, it may not be feasible or appropriate to directly and overtly express anger.

It is generally agreed that Blacks are more likely to be exposed to racial discrimination than are members of many other cultural and ethnic groups. Further, anger, due to this ongoing racial discrimination, has long been recognized to exist among Black Americans (Cleveland, 2003; Grier & Cobbs, 1968, 1971). This anger has been precipitated by discrimination in a variety of situations (Terrell & Terrell, 1999; Feagin, Early, & McKinney, 2001). According to White (1984) many Blacks begin to recognize either that they, or members of their ethnic group, are discriminated against during early adolescence. Yet these adolescents tend to have few safe outlets to express their frustration and anger.

A growing body of data suggests that this anger has an adverse effect upon the health of Blacks. Most of the findings have reported a relationship between what is probably racial discrimination-induced anger and physical disorders, especially hypertension (McClelland, 1979; Thomas, Nelesen, & Dimsdale, 2004) and coronary heart disease (Diamond, 1982).

Recently a past U.S. Surgeon General stated that at least in some instances variables related to one's culture might place an individual at higher risk for some forms of mental illness or behavioral problems than they would for members of other cultural groups (Satcher, 2001). Alcohol is classified as a depressant (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Thus, among other things, a sufficient quantity of alcohol can have a sedating effect. Although the Office of Applied Studies (National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2006) report indicates that the incidence of drinking among Black adolescents is less than that found among Whites, it is possible that at least some Black adolescents may consume alcohol for reasons related to ongoing discrimination and its concomitant anger. That is, it is possible that, without being aware of it, in order to cope with widespread and continuous exposure to racism, some Black adolescents may engage in a form of self-medication consisting of alcohol abuse.

At least one study has found a relationship between racial discrimination and drug and alcohol use. Gibbons, Gerrard, Cleveland, Wills, and Body (2004) found that both parents and their offspring who reported a history of racial discrimination had a higher incidence of drug and alcohol abuse. Although some evidence suggests a relationship between racial discrimination and alcohol use among Blacks, exactly why Black adolescents who have been discriminated against are at risk for using alcohol remains unclear. This study explored whether, at least among some Black teens, alcohol and drug use was related to anger associated with ongoing exposure to racial discrimination.



Participants consisted of 134 Black adolescents ranging in age from 14 to 18 years living in northeast Texas; 91 were females and 43 were males.


All participants were administered the following inventories: Terrell & Miller (in press) The Black Anger Measure (BAM) which was designed to identify the extent to which Blacks are angry at Whites as a result of being discriminated against. This inventory consists of 52 items that uses a seven-point Likert-type scale ranging from "Strongly agree" to "Strongly disagree." Individuals with higher scores are considered to be more angry as a result of being exposed to racial discrimination. Item to total score correlations on the BAM range from .39 to .61. This inventory has demonstrated a two-week test-retest reliability estimate of .87 and an alpha coefficient of .91. This measure has also been found to significantly correlate with a measure of perceived racism (.76) as well as a measure of the extent to which Blacks mistrust Whites (.67). Since this inventory is not yet widely available, some sample statements are included, as follows: "I get angry when police stop me for no good reason," and "it infuriates me when I hear Whites state that Black children are not smart." A copy of this inventory and more details regarding its psychometric properties is available elsewhere (Terrell & Miller, in press).

The Ewing (1984) Cut Down, Annoyed, Guilty, Eye Opener (CAGE) alcoholism screening questionnaire is composed of four questions. Individuals who answer "yes" to any two of them are considered to be dependent upon alcohol. Medical professionals routinely use the CAGE to screen for alcohol dependency. This questionnaire has been reported to accurately identify the presence or absence of alcoholism over 85% of the time (Maxmen & Ward, 1986).

Finally, all participants were administered a background information questionnaire specifically designed for this study. In addition to obtaining information about age, ethnicity, gender, parental income, and whether the respondent was currently employed, participants were asked to estimate the average number of drinks they consumed on a weekly basis, the type of alcohol they usually drink, the extent to which they believe they tend to drink more when they are upset, and the extent to which they tend to either restrain or express their emotions.


Coaches, directors of recreational centers, and youth organizations in northeast Texas were used to recruit participants for this study. Participants were told that by completing the questionnaires, they could help earn five hundred dollars, which could be used to purchase or replace equipment and supplies for their organization. Participants were told that at least 150 adolescents were needed and that in addition to completing the questionnaires themselves, they could recruit friends and relatives to help meet this goal. Supervisors from each group of adolescents administered the questionnaires. Neither the supervisor nor participants were aware of the purpose of the study. A total of 177 questionnaire packets were distributed. Of these, 161 questionnaire were actually filled out. Of the questionnaires returned, 27 did not provide sufficient information to include in the data analysis. Another 16 individuals were excluded from the analysis because they did not identify themselves as being exclusively Black or African American. After completing the informed consent form all participants filled out the Background Information questionnaire, followed by the CAGE. The BAM was completed last.


Data Analyses

Preliminary analyses: The mean age of participants in this study was 16.45 (SD = 1.18). Within gender groups the mean age for males was 16.60 (SD = 1.11); for females it was 16.38 (SD = 1.20). The mean BAM scores for the participants was 119.76, SD = 38.08 (Males = 126.27, SD = 44.58, Females = 116.69, SD = 34.43). The mean CAGE scores were .75. SD = .63 (Males = .81, SD = .50, Females = 72, SD = .68) For number of drinks, the mean was 11.54, SD = 7.99 (Males = 17.39, SD = 6.93; Females = 8.78, SD = 6.92). Cronbach's alpha for the CAGE and BAM were .77 and .86, respectively.

The data were analyzed using two hierarchical regressions. For both, the predictor variables consisted of age, gender, and BAM scores. For the first regression, the outcome variable consisted of scores on the CAGE. The outcome variable for the second regression consisted of participants' estimation of the average number of drinks they consumed on a weekly basis. We used the same definition of a drink as that used by the Office of Applied Studies (2006).

Since our interest was in examining the possible unique contribution of anger to drinking for both regressions, we initially removed the potential contribution of gender and age as predictors since those variables have consistently been found to be predictive of alcohol use first. In the first step, we extracted the contributions of gender to the outcome variable. In the second step we removed the contribution of age to the outcome variable. After removing these two predictor variables, we explored whether scores on the BAM were related to the outcome variables.

For the first hierarchical regression, using CAGE scores as the outcome variable, only participant's age was found to be a significant predictor (B = .14, SE = .04, [beta] = .21; F(1,130) = 10.29,p < .001; [R.sup.2] = .25, adjusted [R.sup.2] = .24). For the second regression, which used average number of drinks per week as the criterion variable, participant's gender was again found to be a significant predictor of drinking behavior (B = 8.61, SE = 1.28, [beta] = .51, F(1, 132) = 45.18, p < .001, [R.sup.2] = .25, adjusted [R.sup.2] = .24). Participant's age also predicted drinking behavior (B = .53, SE = .51, [beta] = .12, F(2, 131) = 23.16, p < .001, [R.sup.2] = .26 (adjusted [R.sup.2] = .25). Finally, anger scores were a significant predictor of drinking behaviors (B = .03, SE = .01, [beta] = .17, F(4, 129) = 15.17, p < .001, [R.sup.2] = .32, (adjusted [R.sup.2] = .29).


This study explored whether a relationship exists between racial discrimination-induced anger and alcohol consumption among Black adolescents. It was not found to be a significant predictor of alcohol dependency among this population as measured by scores on the CAGE alcoholism screening questionnaire. Several possibilities may account for this finding. The most obvious explanation for the lack of a significant relationship between anger and alcohol dependency may be due to the age of our sample. Participants ranged in age from early to late adolescence. It is possible that these adolescents had not consumed alcohol long enough to become dependent.

We did find that both gender and age were significant predictors of number of drinks consumed on average per week; males reported that, on average, they drank significantly more each week than did females, and that older adolescents drank significantly more than younger adolescents. This finding is consistent with what has been reported by others (Clark & Scheid, 2002). The extent to which participants reported experiencing racial discrimination-induced anger was also found to be a significant predictor of drinking behaviors. Adolescents with higher racial-induced anger scores tended to drink more than those with lower racial-induced anger scores. More precisely, the more an individual reported experiencing racial discrimination-induced anger, the more they reported drinking.

This study has several limitations. One limitation was that the adolescents were from lower socioeconomic levels. Therefore, the participants probably had limited funds available to purchase alcohol. Perhaps the major limitation was that self-report measures were used. Since the use of drugs would be illegal by those in this age range, although participants were promised confidentiality, it is still possible that they were not completely forthcoming in their responses to our questions. Although we found that racial discrimination-induced anger was a significant predictor of drinking among the adolescents, given the possible limitations of this study, additional research is strongly recommended.

Assuming that findings reported in this study are replicated, they may have theoretical, applied, and future research implications. At the theoretical level, results of this study seem to provide some support for the tension-reduction theory in explaining why at least some Black adolescents consume alcohol. At the applied level, our findings suggest that in treating some Black adolescents who have been referred for alcohol abuse, health care professionals should explore ways of improving the coping skills of Black youths who become angry when discriminated against and consume alcohol as a result. It is also possible that other forms of drug use may be related to attempts by members of the Black community to self-medicate against the effects of racism. On a broader, more speculative level, it is possible that other behavioral problems observed among Blacks might be related to racial discrimination-precipitated anger and other emotions. Therefore, research designed to identify other forms of maladaptive behaviors which may be related to racism should be identified.


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The authors are indebted to Carolyn Terrell for her assistance with the data collection.

Francis Terrell, Aletha R. Miller, Kenneth Foster, and C. Edward Watkins, Jr., Department of Psychology, University of North Texas.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Francis Terrell, Psychology Department, P.O. Box 311280. University of North Texas, Denton, Texas, 76203-1280. Email:
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Author:Terrell, Francis; Miller, Aletha R.; Foster, Kenneth; Watkins, C. Edward, Jr.
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2006
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