Acculturation Stress Makes Latino Teens Turn to Pot, Alcohol, Study says

Mexican middle school students in the Phoenix area are taking up alcohol and marijuana because they feel they are discriminated against, according to a new study.

The study, in the December issue of Prevention Science, said Mexican and Mexican American students who were trying to assimilate to the mainstream U.S. culture had a tough time coping – triggering stress. The stress puts the students at a higher risk for alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana dependence, the study says.

“As levels of perceived discrimination and acculturation stress increased with age, so did the risk for substance use," said lead author Jennifer Kam, assistant professor in the School of Communication at Ohio State University.

The study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, followed 1,106 fifth through eighth graders of Mexican heritage in 29 public middle schools in Phoenix and surrounding areas.

"Acculturation stress is often associated with anxiety, anger and depression. It is a complex process that involves challenges and troubles that often stem from tension between one's native culture and the mainstream culture,” Kam said. “These associations are particularly stressful when they involve discrimination, and youth may cope with the stress by turning to alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana."

There was no difference in levels of discrimination among students born in the U.S. or in Mexico, the study showed. But it said language preference played an important role in perceived discrimination. Those who spoke more English and lived longer in the U.S. felt less discriminated against, the study says.

"These findings emphasize the importance of addressing discrimination and may partially explain why national data on adolescent drug use has found that Latino students report some of the highest alcohol, cigarette, and other drug use rates in the country," Kam said.

Sample questions for the students included: "People don't like me because of my ethnic group" and "Kids my age exclude me from their activities or games because my ethnic group is different."

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