Examining the Immigrant Paradox with Relation to Latino Youth Drinking

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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  • easton

    October 22nd, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    With an issue like this you have to remember that a lot of times you will be dealing with a culture that feels demeaned and discriminated against oo, so many of those problems could trend very heavily toward causing drinking problems. Yes it could also be cultural but there are some very dynamic social issues that could also be causing a trend upwatd in drinking among this demographic and that should not be overlooked as well.

  • Katherine

    October 22nd, 2012 at 7:25 PM

    Let us not always blame the culture and discrimination here in the US.The first generation immigrants are usually hard workers who strive to put a roof over their head and provide food for their family.While they are not ensured riches,they do manage to be just alright.Now a second or third generation individual does not have this work responsibility yet finds himself in a low socio economic setting and at an automatic disadvantage for drug and alcohol abuse.I think more than being immigrants,the things they are surround by,including their socio economic status is what maters more.

  • paul

    October 22nd, 2012 at 11:36 PM

    I dont believe exposure to more things than ancestors and acclimatization to the american way of life serves in increase in alcohol consumption.after all,if these were true then the same should apply to caucasians as well.the real reason,if you ask me,is the combination of economic status,education,and also neighborhood.that plays a huge role in any child’s development if you ask me.many times you see kids from a particular neighborhood all being into drugs.that is what happens to many minorities.

  • candace

    October 23rd, 2012 at 4:04 AM

    Yeah, I would have thought that the 1st generation would have higher rates of alcoholism than the subsequent generations do.


    October 23rd, 2012 at 7:37 AM

    It definitely is a paradox.But reasons could vary for this.And I believe we have the need to look at the various reasons and see how they can be fixed.Because the drinking problem seems to have affected a lot from the latino community and that is definitely not a good thing.

    The reasons can be overcome not by a simple undoing of everything but by active participation of the latino people themselves.

  • MarisA

    October 23rd, 2012 at 2:08 PM

    Is family values such an important factor in decreasing alcohol abuse?Maybe we could use that angle to help all addicts in general?Especially for the younger people,this sounds like something that may work!

  • jon

    October 24th, 2012 at 4:09 AM

    I wonder if there are those who say forget the whole immigrant experience- I am not willing to lose my child to the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse all for the sake of moving to the US? I want a better life for my family too, but if I felt like I was moving them to a situation that could eventually be a detriment to their health I might have to seriously consider whether this was really the best move for us. It could be all about the land of opportunity for some but for many others it is turning into a nightmare.

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