Public Release: 

Family factors affect drug use by Mexican-American teens

Center for Advancing Health

As Mexican-American teens become more "Americanized," their alcohol, tobacco and drug use increases to match that of white teens, many studies have shown. New research suggests that this acculturation may indirectly influence substance use by contributing to family conflict and making teens more emotionally distant from their parents.

For instance, James Bray, Ph.D., and colleagues at the Baylor College of Medicine found that Mexican-American high schoolers who predominantly speak English are more likely to feel distant from their parents. The emotional separation, in turn, seems to be related to alcohol use, tobacco use and deviant behaviors like stealing and fighting.

"These findings suggest that the previously reported negative impact of acculturation on problem behaviors can be better explained by developmental processes such as increased emotional separation from parents and greater family conflict," Bray and colleagues say in the November issue of Child Development.

The instances of family conflict created by acculturation were related to marijuana use and deviant behavior among the teens, the researchers found.

Bray and colleagues examined the relationship between acculturation, family dynamics and substance use among Mexican-American students from five suburban school districts around Houston. Most of the students were born in the United States, but almost 14 percent were first-generation Americans.

To determine the students' level of acculturation, the researchers asked them how regularly they spoke English with family and friends and whether they and their parents had been born in the United States.

Bray and colleagues found that these measures of acculturation were significantly related to levels of emotional separation and conflict within the teens' families.

"Rather than examining the level of acculturation as the direct cause of risky behavior, future studies should continue to investigate ... how the acculturative process influences attitude, behavior changes and development," Bray says.

The study was supported by the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse.



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