What stage are you in your career, and what is your current affiliation?
I am a tenure-track Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri—St. Louis.
How would you describe your research interests?
Broadly, my research interests focus on strategies for improving racial equity in the research and treatment of substance use and related behavioral health concerns, particularly among Black Americans. My work seeks to understand the development of substance use among minoritized communities and prevent substance use problems that disproportionately affect those communities.
How did you become interested in researching racial equity in the research and treatment of addictive behaviors?
Prior to even thinking about graduate school, I recognized racial inequities in the consequences of mental health and substance use problems as I commuted to my corporate job after undergrad. As a Black woman myself, I knew that I wanted to help improve the health and well-being of people in my own community and in similarly minoritized communities. Once I decided to pursue a career in clinical psychology, I sought out mentors who were focused on culturally-responsive research and intervention for people of minoritized racial and ethnic groups. I had the privilege to work with my graduate mentor, Dr. Tamika Zapolski, who only furthered my interest in and enthusiasm for conducting research at the intersection of race, culture, and addiction. Dr. Zapolski helped me see the value of prevention and early intervention, which shifted my focus from reducing health disparities to promoting racial equity. Now, I focus on understanding and preventing substance use among minoritized people across the lifespan by considering their unique experiences and strengths as well as the systems of oppression that have contributed to the inequitable health outcomes they face.
Congratulations on your recent work published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, titled, “Traditional risk and cultural protection: Correlates of alcohol and cannabis co-use among African-American adolescents.” What do you view as the key takeaways from this work that are important for Division 50 members to know? What are the implications of this work?
Thank you! This paper is one in a special issue on the combined use of alcohol and cannabis. Although scholarship has increasingly attended to the heterogeneous nature of substance use among adolescents and young adults, much of this work has relied on data from predominantly white college students. Given increasing rates of cannabis use—and in turn, alcohol and cannabis co-use—among Black adolescents, this work aimed to identify potential mechanisms that can help differentiate substance use patterns among this group. Specifically, my co-authors and I found that both universal individual factors (e.g., externalizing problems, substance use attitudes) and race-specific factors (e.g., Black racial identity) differentiated co-use from single substance use. To me, the implication for the larger community is that race-related factors improve models of substance use among Black adolescents, including nuanced models of specific substance use patterns. If we are to improve racial equity in both substance use research and substance use outcomes across the lifespan, we must account not only for individual variability but also racial variability in experiences.
How do you see your research interests evolving in the future?
Recently, I have become interested in integrating digital and community-engaged methods to enhance inclusion in research and access to substance use prevention and treatment. As the racial and socioeconomic “digital divide” has narrowed, digital strategies have the potential to mitigate structural inequities that limit treatment access. However, these strategies must be culturally- and community-informed to be effective. I imagine that as technology and social media continue to evolve, my research interests will also have to evolve to stay relevant to the communities I aim to serve.
What would you like to share with someone in the field of addictive behaviors who is interested in examining racial equity in their own work?
To start, I would recommend identifying a collaborator, consultant, or mentor that has experience in racial equity or racial health disparities as they relate to substance use and addiction. There is a small but mighty community of researchers in this field with immense experience advocating for and conducting research with minoritized and marginalized communities. Although sometimes considered niche, our work is relevant to the larger field of addiction science, and we are glad to contribute our expertise. However, please recognize that it is expertise and deserves to be considered as such.
What do you think other researchers in the field of addictive behaviors should consider when conducting research with populations who may experience racial discrimination?
Remember that racial discrimination is pervasive and insidious. You may not always be able to perceive its effects. However, the minoritized people that you work with always carry the trauma of discrimination with them and remain vigilant for further attacks. This is evidenced not only by the extant literature, but also by my own experience.
Researchers should consider how their institutions and staff may be perceived by minoritized people based on the current and historical context and take measures to engender trust. These might include culturally-relevant training for research assistants, recruiting research staff from the communities of interest, and establishing mutual or equitable partnerships with community-based organizations. Researchers should also consider the multiple types of discrimination that minoritized people who use drugs experience due to intersecting racial stigma and drug use stigma. To help mitigate the impact of these stigmas when designing studies that include minoritized communities, researchers may take extra precautions to ensure participant confidentiality and consider how some methods (e.g., biospecimen collection, web-based data collection) may not be deemed safe or culturally appropriate. Given the intersectional complexities of race, drug use, and other identities, it is always a good idea to have two types of collaborators: those who have expertise in culturally-responsive research methods and those who belong to the communities you hope to engage.
Banks, D. E., Riley, T. N., Bernard, D. L., Fisher, S., & Barnes-Najor, J. (2021). Traditional risk and cultural protection: Correlates of alcohol and cannabis co-use among African-American adolescents. Psychology of addictive behaviors : journal of the Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviors, 35(6), 671–681. https://doi.org/10.1037/adb0000756