Drug Use Rises for ‘Americanized’ Hispanics

Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Littleton) may want to be a little more careful of what he wishes for. While the presidential-aspirant would prefer that U.S. borders be closed to new immigrants, especially those from Mexico and Central America, he is also a vocal proponent of cultural and language assimilation for foreign-born Latinos who are currently in the country.

A new study released this week by the American Sociological Association offers up some bad news for Tancredo and his English-only supporters. According to a new research study substance abuse increases dramatically among recent Hispanic immigrants as they replace their traditional cultural beliefs with those of white America.

Oregon State University assistant professor Scott Akins made the announcement at the American Sociological Association’s Annual Meeting this week. The study tracked 6,713 adults, of which 25 percent identified themselves as “Hispanic” living in Washington State.

Previous research of non-acculturated Hispanics living in communities with high concentrations of immigrants in California, Florida and the Southwest states showed significantly lower incidents of drug use. The theory is that slow rates of assimilation insulate Hispanic immigrants from the vices rampant in white American culture.

“In general, recent Hispanic immigrants are more family-oriented and have less tolerant views of drug and alcohol use,” Akins said. “Although acculturation and assimilation will provide some migrants with benefits such as wealth and job stability, immigration and acculturation can be a difficult process which has negative consequences as well.”

“Their percentage/general patterns of substance use are very similar to white patterns of use, which is what we would expect given an acculturation/assimilation model,” Akins said. “When Hispanics acculturate to dominant American society their substance use behavior appears to mimic that of whites, the culture they are acculturating to.”

“When people immigrate to the U.S., their patterns of illegal drug use and alcohol abuse increase over time,” Akins said. “In states such as California, you have large Hispanic enclaves that have a protective buffering effect for new residents. But we wanted to find out what was happening in Washington, a state with a relatively small Hispanic population (only 9 percent statewide), which is disproportionately rural and dispersed.”

The study controlled for a number of factors, including marital status, education level, poverty, and rural residence, among other variables.

Akins said the researchers hope to find new ways to maximize the protective effects of low-acculturation, such as the emphasis on family in traditional cultures, as Hispanic immigrant populations will naturally acculturate over time.