Substance abuse increases among recent Hispanic immigrants as they replace their traditional cultural beliefs with those of white Americans, according to new research presented recently by Oregon State University assistant professor Scott Akins at the American Sociological Association's Annual Meeting in New York.
The study surveyed 6,713 adults in Washington -- of which 1,690 persons identified themselves as "Hispanic." It is the first of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.
Previous research on the effect of acculturation on drug use has been conducted in states with larger Hispanic enclaves such as California, Florida and the Southwest. In these states Hispanics are more likely to live in heavily concentrated ethnic communities, which may slow their acculturation or assimilation.
The results were striking. Acculturated Hispanics were nearly 13 times as likely to report using illegal drugs as non-acculturated Hispanics. Acculturation involves the adoption of new cultural information and social skills by an immigrant group, which often replaces traditional cultural beliefs, practices and social patterns.
"In general, recent Hispanic immigrants are more family-oriented and have less tolerant views of drug and alcohol use," Akins said. "Although acculturation and assimilation will provide some migrants with benefits such as wealth and job stability, immigration and acculturation can be a difficult process which has negative consequences as well."
The study shows that 6.4 percent of whites reported using illicit drugs in the previous month, compared to 7.2 percent of acculturated Hispanics. However, less than 1 percent of non-acculturated, Spanish-speaking Hispanics reported use in the same time period.
"Their percentage/general patterns of substance use are very similar to white patterns of use, which is what we would expect given an acculturation/assimilation model," Akins said. "When Hispanics acculturate to dominant American society their substance use behavior appears to mimic that of whites, the culture they are acculturating to."
The research also showed that acculturated Hispanics were almost twice as likely as non-acculturated Hispanics to report current binge drinking and more than three times as likely to report drinking continuously for days in a row without sobering up, also known as bender drinking.
"When people immigrate to the U.S., their patterns of illegal drug use and alcohol abuse increase over time," Akins said. "In states such as California, you have large Hispanic enclaves that have a protective buffering effect for new residents. But we wanted to find out what was happening in Washington, a state with a relatively small Hispanic population (only 9 percent statewide), which is disproportionately rural and dispersed."
The study controlled for a number of factors, including marital status, education level, poverty, and rural residence, among other variables.
Akins is the lead author on the research, along with Clayton Mosher of Washington State University, Chad L. Smith of Texas State University and Jane Florence Gauthier of University of Nevada Las Vegas.
Akins said the researchers hope to find new ways to maximize the protective effects of low-acculturation, such as the emphasis on family in traditional cultures, as Hispanic immigrant populations will naturally acculturate over time.
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