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.
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 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.