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Dr. Idia Thurston Studies Cultural Factors and Their Associations With SAVA Among Black Women

Idia Thurston

Dr. Idia Thurston

Many black women living in poverty experience a number of risks in higher proportion than most individuals. These risks include, but are not limited to, intimate partner violence (IPV), human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV) and substance use, which interact to create a phenomenon known as SAVA. SAVA, otherwise known as substance abuse, violence, and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS/HIV), is a syndemic phenomenon in which IPV and HIV co-occur with substance abuse. This syndemic highlights the impact that IPV and HIV have on adversities experienced by black women, and that researchers should consider the environment of patients and its impact on vulnerability to disease. Most research on these risk factors focus on negative outcomes, and much less on cultural factors related to sub-stance abuse that could act as a protection against susceptibility to disease.

Dr. Idia Thurston is a psychology professor and researcher at Texas A&M whose areas of interest include clinical psychology and diversity science. She and her colleagues studied two major protective cultural factors and their associations with the SAVA phenomenon among black women. These two protective cultural factors include ethnic identity, or the perception of connectedness with one’s ethnic group, and community cohesion, or the feelings of connectedness and safety within one’s neighborhood. The researchers hypothesized that substance use would be higher in black women who experienced both IPV and HIV at the same time rather than individually, and that both ethnic identity and community cohesion would be inversely related to substance abuse. This inverse relationship would suggest the protective effects of community cohesion and ethnic identity against IPV and HIV.

To test their hypotheses, the researchers recruited 107 black women who reported having experienced IPV in the past 6 months, had a positive HIV test result, or abused substances in the past 6 months; some women experienced more than one of the SAVA adversities. A majority of the sample earned $20,000 or less and had at least a 12th-grade education. All participants answered demographic questions regarding age, race, ethnicity, income, and education. To assess HIV status, participants were asked, “What was the result of your most recent HIV test?” to which the participants responded either “positive” or “negative.” To measure IPV exposure, the researchers used the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS2) which included 5 subscales including: physical assault, psychological aggression, negotiation, injury, and sexual coercion that were scored on a 7-point Likert scale. Higher scores indicated more frequent experiences of IPV. From these scores, a combined variable was created where 1 = participant endorsed a positive HIV status or IPV exposure and 2 = participant endorsed both a positive HIV status and IPV exposure. The Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure (MEIM-R) was used to assess participant ethnic identity. This was a six-item self-report tool used to determine the strength of identification with one’s ethnic identity. Community cohesion was measured with the Community Cohesion Scale (CCS), and substance use was measured with the World Health Organization’s Alcohol, Smoking, and Sub-stance Involvement Screening Test (WHO ASSIST). Participants could report use of tobacco, alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines, inhalants, hallucinogens, opioids, or sedatives; frequency was then self-reported if participants indicated any use. Finally, depressive symptoms were measured by the Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression Scale (CES-D) including the frequency of experiencing the symptoms; higher scores indicated more depressive symptoms.

The data was analyzed in SPSS using a hierarchical regression to determine the associations between the independent variables and substance use. Dr. Thurston and her colleagues found that there was no significant relationship between HIV nor IPV in predicting substance use, however, more community cohesion and greater ethnic identity did significantly predict less-frequent substance use in the sample. Therefore, the researchers’
first hypothesis was not supported, but the second hypothesis was supported. The findings of the study indicate that community cohesion and ethnic identity serve as adaptive factors for Black women who experience adversity. The results also support the importance of including sociocultural variables in research when studying the experiences of women of color. The findings are especially important when discussing
treatment programs for women of color who experience adversity in daily life and for designing interventions that are more culture-centric.
To learn more about this research, read the full article at this link:

Article by: Cheyenne Miller and Shicoyia Morgan, undergraduate psychology majors. They are giving updates on the cutting-edge research conducted at TAMU’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences throughout this semester. Stay tuned for more exciting discoveries in the Texas A&M Psychology Department.