Recently immigrated Hispanic youth experience high levels of stress when it comes to acculturation, and while they may seem to adapt to life in a new cultural setting better than their older counterparts, experts indicate Hispanic youth deal with their fair share of resulting health consequences.
One such issue is that of alcoholism. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, recently immigrated Hispanic youth often report struggling with self-identity. The difficulty in finding a balance between cultural roots and their new environment creates stress, and to deal with that stress, Hispanic youth are turning to alcohol.
“We tend to view acculturation stress as coming from the hosting dominant culture,” said the study’s lead author Assaf Oshri, in a press release. “In fact, immigrant youth often have two or more cultural identities they are trying to embrace at once, leading them to experience dual stress, called bicultural stress. Enduring bicultural stress during adolescence—a vulnerable developmental phase in which adolescents are still forming their own identity—places them at risk for participation in risk behaviors. We found that bicultural stress disrupts their identity consolidation over time, which leads to increased expectations that getting engaged with alcohol use would help them alleviate or cope with this stress.”
Researchers found that peak alcohol use for recently immigrated Hispanic youth occurred between the ages of 18 and 20, with teens as young as 14.5 participating in the research.
“If you’re not sure about yourself, you may be swayed by deviant peers in an effort to be less confused or act out or internalize the feelings of confusion about yourself,” study contributor Josephine Kwon said.
“There’s also a real-world implication here about how prevention and intervention program designers should consider designing their curriculum. [Physicians should] take into account the potential of bicultural stress to negatively impact the development of self-processes and deal with that underlying issue. It’s important to understand there’s an underlying identity issue going on that’s related to these two sources of cultural stress.”
Oshri’s research is not the first to show high rates of substance abuse among Hispanic teens, though it did look exclusively at teens impacted by acculturation stress. In the late 1980’s data was released showing the relationship between substance abuse and acculturation stress. At that time, experts wrote: “Early adolescents, youth aged 9 to 15 years, are most vulnerable to stress-related problems. Early adolescence is a difficult time for all young people. For Hispanic youth, this period may also be accompanied by cultural conflicts and invidious comparisons with advantaged peers. Unsurprisingly, early adolescence is therefore a particularly high-risk period for Hispanic youth. Besides tobacco, alcohol, and drug use, Hispanic early adolescents experience other stress-related problems. Because these problems correlate with substance use, two areas warrant particular mention: school failure and violence.”
And while recently immigrated Hispanic teens are particularly prone to alcohol abuse, as a whole, Hispanics are less likely to suffer from alcoholism compared to non-Hispanic whites. Hispanics who do choose to drink, however, tend to consume higher volumes of alcohol compared to non-Hispanic whites, and this trend among Hispanic adults has also been linked to stress of acculturation.
“The relationship between alcohol consumption and stress is complicated, but yes, people who self-report having highly or chronically stressful lives report drinking more than those who feel less stressed,” Constance Scharff, Ph.D., Addiction Researcher and Transformative Studies Scholar, Cliffside Malibu addiction treatment center, told Saludify.
“Immigrant and refugee populations have special needs and concerns in many aspects of their lives, not just with regard to substance abuse. Organizations such as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) have created resources for social workers tailored to help these populations,” she added. “But we see alcohol abuse across all spectrums of society. Alcoholism is no respecter of class or social status. Alcohol remains the most widely abused substance in our country.”