Exposure to personal and community violence and associated drug use outcomes in African American young adults

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of ethnicity in substance abuse








Exposure to violence; community violence; drug use; health outcomes; personal violence


BACKGROUND: Exposure to violence (ETV) during one's life has been associated with increased risk for substance abuse. Adolescent ETV is also related to substance abuse into adulthood, and has been shown to have a cumulative effect. This study adds to the understanding of how ETV relates to a range of substance use outcomes by specifying how different types of violence affects substance use behaviors in African American young adults, and examines how this exposure is moderated by other life stressors, and health and social experiences. METHOD: Factor analysis was conducted to identify unique types of ETV in 638 African American men and women ages 18-25. The resulting factors represent 1) childhood ETV and 2) community ETV as adults. These were regressed upon substance abuse outcomes. RESULTS: 78% of the respondents were exposed to some form of violence during their childhood. Lower childhood ETV were significantly associated with a lower risk of engaging in dangerous substance use behaviors. Adult experiences of community violence had more significant predictors of drug use than childhood ETV. Witnessing gunfire or an assault, witnessing or being a victim of sexual assault, and carrying a weapon were consistent risk factors for dangerous drug behaviors, although specific drug use behaviors differed across genders. CONCLUSIONS: ETV served as an independent explanatory factor for specific drug use behaviors at different stages of life. Future research is needed to understand how these factors put respondents at risk for drug use behaviors or make them less likely to engage in dangerous use patterns.