“You Gotta Be Strong Minded”: Substances Use and Individualism Among Urban Minority Youth

David T. Lardier, Autumn M. Bermea, Tiffany L. Brown, Pauline Garcia-Reid, Robert J. Reid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Through the voices of racially ethnically marginalized adolescents (N = 85), the present study highlights the ways in which youth access drugs and alcohol within their immediate environmental contexts, while simultaneously underscoring youth’s sense of individualism in abstaining from substance use—both a cause and consequence of their socioecological circumstances. Methods: The current study was part of a larger Drug Free Communities (DFC) grant initiative that focused on preventing the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs among urban adolescents through environmental-community based strategies. A sample of 85 youth were recruited from existing summer programs throughout the target city. Youth participants were engaged in 11 focus groups that were guided by five semi-structured interview questions. Data were analyzed using a constant comparative approach. Findings: Findings illustrated three overarching themes: (1) “People Get Ahold of Drugs”: Numerous Environmental Access Points; (2) “The Cops Won’t Do Anything”: The Limits of Perceived Support; and (3) “You Gotta Be Strong Minded”: The Embrace and Reality of Individualism. Through these themes, youth described the accessibility of drugs and alcohol in their community, while simultaneously juxtaposing these narratives with discussions of strategies in abstaining from substances. Data suggested that youth were exposed to numerous access points to substances and described minimal social support to abstain from drugs and alcohol. Youth embraced a narrative of individualism and viewed themselves as solely responsible for staying away from substances. Conclusion: Findings provide useful insights for mental health and social work practice and are discussed within the context of neoliberal policies that limit access to resources and place the blame of substance use on the individual. Recommendations emphasize the significance of enhancing youth’s community connection and the perception that others, such as social workers and other adult allies, are also interested in their success.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-200
Number of pages28
JournalUrban Social Work
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2020


  • Black and Hispanic youth
  • healthcare disparities
  • neoliberalism
  • prevention programming
  • substance use
  • urban communities


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