Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Cannabis, Culture and Anxiety: Attitudes of Mexican/Mexican-American College Students on the US/Mexico Border

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Cannabis, Culture and Anxiety: Attitudes of Mexican/Mexican-American College Students on the US/Mexico Border

Article excerpt

Despite the fact that the Hispanic population is the fastest growing ethnic cohort in the United States, relatively little is known about the influence of Hispanic cultural beliefs on illicit substance use. The largest sub-group of Hispanics is comprised of approximately twenty-eight million people of Mexican origin (U.S. Census, 2009); and in 2008, approximately 52% of those residing along the border were of Hispanic origin (U.S. Border Health Commission, 2010). The United States-Mexico Border Health Commission (2009) noted considerable economic and health-related challenges to border communities including: a rapidly growing population, low educational attainment, low income, high poverty rates, and a lack of health insurance and health care providers. Evidence suggests these issues, along with migration and acculturation processes, may increase the prevalence rates of anxiety and anxiety disorders among Hispanics (Merikangas, Li, Stipelman, Yu, Fucito, Swendesen & Zhang, 2009; Murgia, Chen & Kaplan, 1998 ), and that anxiety and cultural beliefs and practices may contribute to substance use and abuse (Hirai, Stanley & Novy, 2006; Hadjicostandi & Cheurprakobkit, 2002; Monroe, 2004).

A number of theories may be used to explain the use of alcohol and other substances to relieve anxiety among Hispanics, particularly those persons in the process of acculturation. Two theories specifically take into account the influence of stressful events on an individuals' ability to function which can subsequently lead to negative coping strategies, including illicit substance use. In their study of Hispanics and African Americans with post-traumatic stress disorder, Montoya, Covarrubias, Patek, and Graves (2003) found self-medication was used as a mechanism to relieve anxiety symptoms, particularly for persons in the process of acculturation. The Self Medication theory purports that an individual's emotional response to trauma may cause an emotional disturbance (i.e., anxiety, irritability, and/or depression) thereby motivating them to use alcohol and/or illicit substances to "relieve the pain associated with the trauma" (Montoya, Covarrubias, Patek, and Graves, 2003; p. 732). Similarly, the Tension-Reduction theory (Stewart, Karp, Pihl, & Peterson, 1997) suggests drug use/abuse is adopted to help cope "with states of fear, nervousness, tension, excitement or restlessness" (p.225).

In addition, due to the euphoric and relaxation effects of cannabis, as well as its anxiolytic and antidepressant effects, cannabis is often used to combat affective disorders (Leweke & Koethe, 2008) in "people with mental health problems [who] are more likely to use cannabis in response to their symptoms" (Hayatbackhsh et al. 2007, p. 408). While causality has not been established (Crippa et al., 2009), many researchers claim mood/anxiety disorders often lead to susceptibility to substance abuse (Buckner, Schmidt, Bobadilla, & Taylor, 2006; Stewart, Karp, Pihl, & Peterson, 1997) which may in turn lead to a lifetime of other mental health needs (Bricker, et al., 2007; Leweke, & Koethe, 2008; Troisi, Pasini, Saracco, & Spalletta, 1998). Cannabis abuse is considered by some researchers as a "gateway" to social problems resulting mental health issues (Hayatbakhsh, Najman, Jamrozik, Mamun, Alati, & Bor, 2007). In a national study of substance abuse treatment facilities, individuals who met the diagnostic criteria for cannabis dependence were twice as likely to have a concurrent mood or anxiety disorder as individuals without cannabis dependence (Agosti, Nunes, & Levin, 2002).

Anxiety Disorders among Hispanics

The DSM-IV TR (2000) defines characteristics of anxiety (i.e. Generalized Anxiety Disorder) to include, excessive anxiety and worry, difficulty controlling worry, distress due to constant worry which may lead to impairments in social, occupational or other areas of functioning, restlessness, easily fatigued, difficulties concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and disturbed sleep. …

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