Yale University

Understanding the Role of Neighborhoods on Urban Youth's Substance Use and Mental Health: A Community-Based Substance Abuse Prevention Project

Principle Investigator(s):

Funder: Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health
Project period: 07/01/2021 - 08/31/2025
Grant Type: Research
Further Detail

Abstract Text:

Urban youth in the United States are more likely to be exposed to licit and illicit substances, experience higher levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms, and live in under-resourced areas. Such a disparity leaves urban youth at risk of poorer health outcomes than their counterparts. Since youth substance use is on the rise, it is imperative for innovative methods to be utilized in order to tackle this complex issue. The association between substance use, neighborhood characteristics, and mental health outcomes in youth is emerging in the literature yet disparities continue to impact youth in urban communities. Paterson, New Jersey is a northeastern, urban community which has one the highest rates of substance abuse in the nation. Youth living in Paterson are overly exposed to drug use in their neighborhoods and have extreme access to substances, leaving them more at risk to initiate use at earlier ages and more likely to become dependent into adulthood. My research in this community has shown that neighborhood and community level characteristics, in addition to depressive and anxiety symptoms among youth, can be key facilitators to early substance use. Previous research has overwhelmingly placed the blame on individuals, particularly youth, as opposed to acknowledging the systemic structures and the environmental context in which youth are nested. Although substance use prevention interventions exist, youth who are the most vulnerable and often the hardest to reach, are not engaged in prevention interventions or connected to resources. In order to reach this at-risk population, I propose to use an innovative method, venue-based sampling, to recruit at-risk youth. The research addresses these specific aims: Aim 1: To examine the association between neighborhood characteristics, substance use, and mental health symptoms among Paterson youth using quantitative and qualitative methods. Aim 2: Use findings from Aim 1 to inform the adaptation of a community-based and evidence-based substance use prevention intervention for Paterson youth. Aim 3: Pilot the intervention on a sample of Paterson youth. I hypothesize that there will be significant differences in risk and protective factors by race, gender, age, and socioeconomic status among Paterson youth. This project will use multiple sources of data to inform findings and use preliminary data to prepare a more robust R01 clinical trial application to be implemented in Paterson and other urban cities that will account for unique differences in urban youth.