Racial and Ethnic Minority Populations

Learn how SAMHSA’s programs, initiatives, and resources work to improve the behavioral health of racial and ethnic minority populations.

Racial and ethnic minorities currently make up about a third of the population of the nation and are expected to become a majority by 2050. These diverse communities have unique behavioral health needs and experience different rates of mental and/or substance use disorders and treatment access.

Communities of color tend to experience greater burden of mental and substance use disorders often due to poorer access to care; inappropriate care; and higher social, environmental, and economic risk factors.

Learn more about behavioral health issues and diverse racial and ethnic communities.

African Americans

There are about 44.5 million African Americans in the United States (about 14.2% of the total population). According to data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) – 2014 (PDF | 3.4 MB):

  • The rate of illegal drug use in the last month among African Americans ages 12 and up in 2014 was 12.4%, compared to the national average of 10.2%.
  • The rate of binge drinking (drinking five or more drinks on a single occasion for men) among African Americans ages 12 and up was 21.6%–compared with the national average of 23%.
  • African Americans ages 12 to 20 in 2014 reported past-month alcohol use at a rate of 17.3%, compared with the national average of 22.8%. Past-month underage binge drinking was 8.5% for African American youth, while the national average was 13.8%.

Rates of mental disorders are generally low among African Americans. In 2014, 3.8% of African American adults ages 18 and older had a past-year mental illness and a substance use disorder, while the national average was 3.3%. The 2014 national average for any mental illness in the past year for adults was 18.1%, compared to 16.3% for African American adults.

African Americans face higher rates of death from major diseases and higher rates of HIV infection than their Caucasian counterparts. African Americans in 2010 accounted for 44% of HIV infection cases in the country.

American Indians and Alaska Natives

There are about 5.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States (about 1.7% of the total population). American Indians and Alaska Natives experience some of the highest rates of substance use and mental disorders compared to other U.S. racial or ethnic groups. For instance:

  • The rate of illegal drug use in the last month among American Indians and Alaska Natives ages 12 and up in 2014 was 14.9%.
  • American Indians and Alaska Natives ages 12 to 20 in 2014 reported past-month alcohol use at a rate of 21.9%, compared with the national average of 22.8%.
  • Past-month underage binge drinking was 14.3% for American Indian and Alaska Native youth, while the national average was 13.8%.
  • In 2010, Native Americans had the highest rate of drug-induced death (17.1%).

Rates of mental disorders in American Indians and Alaska Natives in 2014:

  • The percentage of American Indians and Alaska Natives ages 18 and up who reported a past-year mental illness was 21.2%.
  • The rate of serious mental illness among American Indians and Alaska Natives ages 18 and up in this population was 4%.
  • In 2014, 8.8% of American Indians and Alaska Natives ages 18 and up had co-occurring, past-year mental and substance use disorders, while the national average was 3.3%.

In addition, according to a 2015 fact sheet (PDF | 140 KB) published by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the suicide rate among American Indian and Alaska Native adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 34 (19.5 per 100,000) is 1.5 times higher than the national average for that age group (12.2 per 100,000). The 2015 NSDUH (PDF | 3.4 MB) rate of serious thoughts of suicide among those ages 18 and up was 4.8% for American Indians and Alaska Natives, compared with the national average of 3.9%.

The SAMHSA Office of Tribal Affairs and Policy (OTAP) serves as SAMHSA’s primary point of contact for tribal governments, tribal organizations, federal departments and agencies, and other governments and agencies on behavioral health issues facing American Indians and Alaska Natives. OTAP supports SAMHSA’s efforts to advance the development and implementation of data-driven policies and innovative practices that promote improved behavioral health for American Indian and Alaska Native communities and populations. OTAP also brings together SAMHSA’s tribal affairs, tribal policy, tribal consultation, tribal advisory, and Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA) responsibilities to improve agency coordination and meaningful progress.

SAMHSA has programs, initiatives, and resources in place that aim to improve the behavioral health of the nation’s 566 Indian entities eligible to receive federal government services – 2014 (PDF | 187 KB). Learn more about these specific efforts, including the TLOA and Tribal Action Plan (TAP) development and how SAMHSA addresses the mental health and substance abuse needs of Native Americans at the Tribal Affairs topic.

Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Other Pacific Islanders

There are about 18.2 million people who identify themselves as Asian American. There are also 1.4 million Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders in the United States. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Asians are the fastest growing racial group in the nation.

In 2014:

  • Among people ages 12 and up, the rate of illegal drug use in the last month was 4.1% among Asian Americans and 15.6% among Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders.
  • The rate of binge alcohol use was lowest among Asian Americans ages 12 and up (14.5%). The binge alcohol use rate was 18.3% among Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders.
  • The past-month binge alcohol use rate for youth ages 12 to 20 was 6.7% for Asian Americans, compared with the national average of 13.8%.
  • The rate of substance dependence or abuse was 4.5% for Asian Americans and 10% for Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders.

In 2014, the percentage of Asian Americans ages 18 and up reporting a past-year mental illness was 13.1%, and 3.1% of Asian Americans and 1.2% of Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders ages 18 and older had serious thoughts of suicide, compared to the national average of 3.9%.

However, examination of disaggregated data unmasks disparities experienced by groups within the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander population. For instance, older Asian American women have the highest suicide rate of all U.S. women over the age of 65. Southeast Asian refugees are also at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) associated with trauma experienced before and after emigration to the United States.

Hispanics or Latinos

There are about 52 million Hispanics or Latinos in the United States (about 16.7% of the total population). By 2050, the number of people in this population group is expected to double to about 132.8 million, making up approximately 30% of the total U.S. population.

Regarding substance abuse among Hispanics or Latinos, data from the 2015 NSDUH (PDF | 3.4 MB) indicates:

  • The rate of illicit drug use in the past month among Hispanic individuals ages 12 and up was 8.9%, while the national average was 10.2%.
  • The rate of binge alcohol use among Hispanics or Latinos within this age group was 24.7%. Alcohol use in the last year among people ages 12 to 17 was 23.9% for Hispanic youth.

Rates of mental disorders for Hispanics or Latinos in 2014 include:

  • The percentage of people ages 18 and up reporting a past-year mental illness was 15.6%.
  • About 3.5% of adult Hispanics or Latinos had a serious mental illness.
  • The percentage of people who reported a major depressive episode was 5.6%.
  • About 3.3% of this population had a co-occurring mental health and substance use disorder.
Last Updated: 08/16/2018