Health

Study Finds Drug Use Increases With 'Acculturation'

OPB | Aug. 13, 2007 9:47 a.m. | Updated: July 17, 2012 1:19 a.m. | Portland, OR

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By Andrew Theen

New research from an Oregon university shows an increase in drug and alcohol use among Hispanics who are considered “acculturated” into American society.

As Andrew Theen reports, the research ruffles some feathers, but the overarching message highlights the contrast between acculturation and adherence to traditional values.


Scott Akins was the lead author of the study.  His research group sampled 6,900 Washington residents.  About 1,700 people designated themselves as Hispanic.

Akins said the dominant factor that determines whether or not a person is becoming “acculturated” is language.  Meaning English is their primary language.

That group was 13 times more likely than other Hispanics who responded in Spanish to use illegal drugs.

Akins' research found the "acculturated" group reported illicit drug use at a comparable level to that of whites.  7.2 percent for the acculturated Hispanics;  6.4 percent for whites.

Meanwhile Spanish-speakers reported a less than one percent use. Akins cautioned that the study is not an indictment of any society.

Scott Akins : "There’re benefits and drawbacks associated with all societies.   While a lot of recent immigrants may enjoy some of the benefits of American society like increased access to jobs they also may be more at risk to abuse of drugs and alcohol."

He says the group chose the Northwest because of the dispersed Hispanic and Latino populations.  Larger urban areas have concentrated areas where traditional immigrant cultures thrive.

But Maria-Elena Ruiz says surveys can often miss the larger picture.  Ruiz is an assistant professor at the OHSU’s Center for Health Disparities. She says she's a bilingual and bicultural Latina and takes exception to the label Hispanic.

Maria-Elena Ruiz : "People tend to use Hispanic now as a race, and that’s something that we’re concerned about. They tend to lump everyone together. And Hispanics are from many countries."

Maria Underwood is the development director for La Clinica, a health care center for migrant workers in Southern Oregon.  She's not surprised by the study. She says second generation immigrants face a lot of societal pressures.

They often try to fit into a culture, at the expense of their traditional values.  She grew up in Arizona.  She wants her two teenagers to know both cultures.

Maria Underwood: "With them I’m trying to recapture what we lost in terms of where my family comes from in Mexico and what they held sacred and what they valued.  I’m working to try and recover that and recreate that for my children."

For his part, Professor Akins says there are many factors that simply could not be included in the survey.  Many immigrant families who work as migrant laborers do not respond to surveys for fear of retribution.  All parties involved agreed on the need for  more research.

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