Immigrants face many challenges. People who immigrate to the United States must adapt socially, culturally, and linguistically to a society that is often very different from their country of origin. Latinos who immigrate to the United States often end up in disadvantaged communities and must overcome many barriers to secure employment, housing, and education. All of these factors can increase stress and put people at risk for negative coping strategies such as alcohol and drug use. Perhaps surprisingly, though, research has shown that first-generation immigrants are less likely to abuse alcohol than later generations who are more assimilated to society and face fewer cultural stressors. This dynamic is known as the immigrant paradox. If first-generation immigrants are more vulnerable to negative coping methods, why do they have lower rates of early alcohol consumption than later generations of Latinos?
To explore this question further, Guadalupe A. Bacio of the Department of Psychology at UCLA recently led a study that evaluated what factors contributed to drinking behaviors in 2,482 Latino teens who represented first-, second- and third-generation immigrants. He found that in support of the immigrant paradox, the later-generation immigrants had higher rates of substance use than the first-generation immigrants. Some factors that contributed to these findings included an erosion of family values as generations passed. Family is central among first-generation immigrants, and provides a buffer against negative influences, risky behavior, and stress. As generations become more acclimated to American society, the family does not provide the same foundation it did for first-generation immigrants. Additionally, later-generation teens associate more with peers outside of their culture and are exposed to more things than their ancestors. This exposure increases their risk for substance use and other negative behaviors. Bacio believes these findings emphasize the importance of considering all dynamics of culture, and not just nativity, when addressing mental health issues in minorities. “Findings suggest that effective preventions to delay drinking initiation among Latino teens should target perceptions of peer alcohol and drug use,” Bacio said.
Bacio , G. A., Mays, V. M., Lau, A. S. (2012). Drinking initiation and problematic drinking among latino adolescents: Explanations of the immigrant paradox. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029996
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