LSU Researcher Awarded $800K to Study Links Between Substance Misuse and Experiences with Racism

January 24, 2024

LSU Professor of Psychology Julia Buckner has received two separate awards from the National Institutes of Health—over $800,000 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Drug Abuse—to study the direct links between daily experiences with racism, including microaggressions, and alcohol and cannabis use and potential problems that result from use.

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It’s already well-documented that race-based discrimination makes people feel depressed, sad, angry, or anxious, LSU Professor of Psychology Julia Buckner says. Meanwhile, she’s one of few researchers who study how those experiences and feelings play a role in substance use and related problems.

Buckner’s studies are new in that they’re not only providing data on Black Americans’ day-to-day experiences with racism, but establishing how these events can lead to alcohol and drug misuse.

“There isn’t much research on the experience of Black Americans generally in terms of psychological research, and very little on what’s happening when someone decides to use substances,” Buckner said. “With the research that’s been done so far, we know experiencing racism is related to more substance use and use-related problems generally, but not whether experiencing racist events on a particular day is related to increases in negative emotions that lead to greater likelihood of using substances to manage those negative emotions. Also, research in this area often asks people if they’re using, but not, ‘Why are you using?’ So, that’s one of the exciting new pieces of this, that we’re explicitly asking people if their use is related to their experiences with racism.”

Recruitment for both studies is ongoing. While Buckner expects to focus on Black Americans in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, area, the studies are being done virtually through several daily check-ins via a smartphone app to increase accessibility, thus opening both studies up to participants across the nation.

“Documenting the impact of experiencing racism on mental health and substance use in real time is going to give us some pretty compelling information about the negative mental health impacts of experiencing racist events—and from what we know from earlier studies, Black Americans experience racist events almost daily,” Buckner said. “We’ll be able to contribute to that literature, showing just how frequently these racist events are happening, and their negative impacts on mental health and substance use.”

The main goal of Buckner’s work is to help create new and better prevention and treatment services for underserved populations that have been underrepresented in psychological research.

“I’ve been living in Baton Rouge now for over 15 years and it has become very important to me that we’re including everyone in our understanding of how to best prevent and treat mental health problems and substance-related problems to reduce health disparities,” Buckner said. “Understanding the factors that increase the likelihood of continuing to use substances despite experiencing problems should give us some potentially important treatment targets.”

Buckner’s studies will not only document negative outcomes but also positive coping and resiliency mechanisms that protect people from substance misuse and help regulate the negative emotions that come from experiencing racism.

Results from the studies will be released after the research projects conclude in 2025. All participant data will be protected and anonymous. If you are a Black American who uses alcohol or cannabis and would like to participate in one or both of Buckner’s studies, you can visit their website to complete a brief online screening to see if you’re eligible. The study involves two online surveys about experiences with racism, substance use, and mental health. It also involves completing two-minute surveys on a mobile app several times per day for 21 days. The entire study can be done remotely from anywhere in the country. Participants receive up to $260 for completing the study.