Tessa Nalven, University of Rhode Island


The United States’ Multiracial population (i.e., two or more races) increased by 276% between the 2010 and 2020 censuses, making it one of the fastest growing racial/ethnic demographic groups in the country. Research suggests that Multiracial young adults (i.e., 18–25 years old) report higher alcohol and other drug (AOD) use and are at a higher risk for AOD-related consequences than nearly all their monoracial counterparts. The present study conducted focus groups and utilized descriptive qualitative methodology to uncover factors associated with AOD use in Multiracial young adults. 22 participants (77.3% women, Mage = 20.8 years, SD = 2.6) were included and were eligible if they were Multiracial, 18–25 years old, and reported any past six-month AOD use. In fall 2021, semi-structured interviews were conducted with four online focus groups of 4–7 participants each; these groups were audio/video recorded via Zoom. Following transcription of recordings, content and thematic analysis was completed with two independent coders using Atlas. Five major categories emerged in participants’ responses regarding risk or protective factors related to their AOD use: (1) racial discrimination and microaggressions, (2) mental health, (3) environment, (4) fitting in and belonging, and (5) racial identity. In addition, two themes were extracted from data: (1) no one understands my life and (2) being Multiracial is always present. For the five categories, experiences of racial discrimination and microaggressions included discrimination within the family, racism directed at individuals for a racial group with which they do not belong, stereotype threat, intergenerational trauma, internalized racism, and privilege. Mental health-related factors included mood/anxiety, self-esteem, social support, and coping. Environmental influences were comprised of availability of AODs, neighborhood factors (e.g., socioeconomic status), and social environmental influences. Participants discussed challenges and advantages they had with fitting in and belonging among their families and communities, including seeking acceptance, being socially isolated, and social flexibility. Finally, racial identity concerns included delayed racial identity development, identity confusion, emotional exhaustion related to identity (and the need to be constantly attentive to race), but also pride in racial identity and increased emotional intelligence. The two themes were comprised of common threads across the majority of participants’ lived experiences including their reported constant sense of isolation, loneliness, and being misunderstood, which resulted in feeling a lack of support and community. They also felt that being Multiracial was impactful in all aspects of their lives, and while that created stress and exhaustion, it also enhanced their social and emotional resilience. These findings suggest that there are unique factors associated with AOD use in Multiracial young adults. Interventions to ameliorate the disproportionate rates of AOD use among Multiracial young adults should leverage the unique risk and protective factors experienced by Multiracial young adults and consider the complex interactions between racial discrimination, individuals’ identity, their way of fitting in, their environment, and mental health. Such interventions may particularly benefit by addressing healthy ways of coping with such concerns and educating society about ways to foster Multiracial individuals’ healthy growth.