MyStudentBody - Are Your Interventions Culturally Sensitive?

Are Your Interventions Culturally Sensitive?

A white woman, Asian American man, and African American woman smiling.

Make your school's prevention programs as effective as possible, by understanding alcohol and drug consumption patterns of the different cultural groups on campus. Although white males are the student group most likely to engage in high-risk drinking, students in other demographic groups also face hazards.

MyStudentBody's reports can classify alcohol-use data for your campus through the use of racial and ethnic identifiers; this option can help to direct your prevention efforts in culturally-sensitive ways that improve their effectiveness. 

There are significant differences in alcohol and drug use patterns based on race and ethnicity. For example, while half of white students are heavy episodic drinkers—defined as having five or more drinks in a row for men, and four or more for women—only one-third of Hispanic and American Indian students and less than one-quarter of African American college students drink this heavily. American Indian students, however, are more likely than students in other groups to use marijuana and cocaine.

Different ethnic groups may experience different health effects from their drug and alcohol use as well. While drinking rates are lowest among African Americans, in comparison to whites they suffer from similar or slightly greater alcohol-related health consequences; these personal costs include being involved in accidents, having problems with the police, suffering from withdrawal, and developing tolerance to higher levels of alcohol consumption. American Indian students were found to have the highest rates among college students of public misconduct and personal problems related to alcohol use.

Students who consumed alcohol in the past 30 days, by racial or ethnic group, 2005 

Black/African American: 52%

Asian/Pacific Islander: 59%

American Indian: 73%

Hispanic: 75%

White: 75%

Binge drinking* among college-student racial or ethnic groups, 2005 

Black/African American: 23%

Asian/Pacific Islander: 34%

American Indian: 53%

Hispanic: 49%

White: 50%

*Defined in this study as five or more drinks in a row for men and four or more drinks for women, in the two weeks prior to the survey. 

Marijuana use among college-student racial or ethnic groups, 2005 

Black/African American: 16%

Asian/Pacific Islander: 10%

American Indian: 28%

Hispanic: 19%

White: 26%

Learning from Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Students attending historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) have some of the lowest rates of alcohol use among all college populations. Students at HBCUs drink an average of 1.8 drinks per week, compared to students at predominantly white colleges of similar size, who consume 4.6 drinks weekly. Among white students who attend HBCUs, only 23% reported drinking heavily in the two weeks prior to being surveyed; on other campuses, the rate for white students was 40%.

The lower rate of college drinking and drug abuse among African American students reflects similarly lower rates among African Americans generally. But the lower incidence of risky drinking behavior at HBCUs, even among white students, suggests environmental factors are at work as well. Studies have found that schools with more minority and older students—who drink more moderately themselves—see less-risky drinking behavior among students overall.

Many HBCUs have strong religious roots, and most have traditionally focused on a mission of leadership development. HBCUs may be more explicitly invested in fostering student success; one study found that HBCUs provide their students with more opportunities for community service, a factor that has been found to lower the risk for alcohol and drug problems.

Practices at HBCUs that may help reduce alcohol and drug issues at other colleges:

  • More individual attention to students
  • More faculty involvement in nonacademic issues, such as career advice and mentoring
  • More opportunities for community service
  • More mentoring
  • More ties with the larger community

Culturally Sensitive Interventions

More research is needed to determine which interventions work best among different student populations. One study at Pennsylvania State University found that minority students were more likely to attend alcohol-free programming, possibly because the programs involved activities (such as music and dancing) that had more appeal to some ethnic groups. Minority students may also be more motivated by the belief that succeeding in college is important to succeeding in life.

To provide culturally-sensitive prevention and intervention programs, it's important to understand your school's demographics. Gather data on substance use that identifies trends on campus by racial and ethnic groups. MyStudentBody is designed to help track the effectiveness of your interventions and to improve your outreach to all students on your campus.


Kapner, D.A. (2008). Alcohol and other drug use at historically black colleges and universities, U.S. Department of Education's Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention InfoFacts Resources. Retrieved October 12, 2011, from 

U.S. Department of Education's Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention. (2007). Diversity on campus: implications for prevention. Catalyst. Spring 2007, Vol 8, No. 3. Retrieved October 12. 2011, from 

U.S. Department of Education's Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention. (2008). InfoFacts Resources: Racial and ethnic differences in alcohol and other drug use. Retrieved October 13, 2011, from 

Wechsler H, Kuo M. Watering Down the Drinks: The Moderating Effect of College Demographics on Alcohol Use of High-Risk Groups. (2003). Am J Public Health. 2003 November; 93(11): 1929–1933. Retrieved on October 13, 2011, from