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

Delvon T. Mattingly, Lauren C. Howard, Evan A. Krueger, Nancy L. Fleischer, Chanita Hughes-Halbert, Adam M. Leventhal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number109530
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
StatePublished - Aug 1 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research reported in this publication was supported by grant number K24-DA048160 from the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States (US) and grant number R01-CA229617 from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and NIDA at the NIH in the US. The funders had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, or interpretation of the data; or preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier B.V.


  • Alcohol
  • Cannabis
  • Marijuana
  • Police brutality
  • Substance use
  • Tobacco

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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