Academic journal article Journal of Drug Issues

The Effect of Acculturation on Patterns of Hispanic Substance Use in Washington State

Academic journal article Journal of Drug Issues

The Effect of Acculturation on Patterns of Hispanic Substance Use in Washington State

Article excerpt

A growing body of research on Hispanic substance use in the United States has found acculturation to result in increased drug use. This study contributes to this research by analyzing the effect of acculturation on Hispanic substance use in Washington State, a state with a rural and dispersed Hispanic population. Findings reveal acculturation to have a strong positive effect on levels of illicit drug use, hard drug use, binge drinking and bender drinking among Hispanics.


A substantial body of research suggests that acculturation is important for understanding variation in patterns of Hispanic1 substance use and abuse. Acculturation involves the adoption of new cultural information and social skills by an immigrant group, which often replace traditional cultural beliefs, practices, and interaction patterns to varying degrees (Vega, Alderete, Kolody, & AguilarGaxiola, 1998; Vega & Gil, 1998). Research on the predictors of drug use and abuse among Hispanics is particularly important as the Hispanic population in the United States is rapidly growing and is expected to approach or exceed 25% of the total U.S. population by 2050 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004). Studies on the predictors of substance use and abuse among Hispanic adults are necessary in order to allocate resources for drug prevention and treatment.

Existing research that focuses on Hispanics in the United States has found drug use and abuse to increase with acculturation (Finch, Boardman, Kolody, & Vega, 2000; Vega, Alderete et al., 1998; Vega, Gil, & Wagner, 1998). Acculturation is predictive of substance use in the United States partly because immigrant groups are typically more conservative in terms of values and behavior related to drug use than is American society in general (Castro, Proescholdbell, Abeita, & Rodriguez, 1999) and partly because of "acculturation stress." Acculturation stress refers to societal pressures that force immigrants to alter their lifestyles, behaviors, and the way they think about themselves as well as strains deriving from the disadvantaged social situation and environment facing recent (particularly first- and second-generation) Hispanic immigrants (Vega, Gil et al., 1998).

This study makes several contributions to the growing literature on acculturation and Hispanic substance use. First, it provides analyses on the effect of acculturation on Hispanic substance use in Washington State, to our knowledge the first such analyses conducted on Hispanic populations in the Pacific Northwest. One of the predominant hypotheses embedded in the acculturation-drug use literature is that increased exposure to U.S. culture brings increased opportunities for drug use and increased exposure to the social contexts of drug use as compared to traditional Latin American countries (Vega, Zimmerman, Warheit & Gil, 2002). This is significant because much of the existing research on acculturation and Hispanic substance use has been conducted in states such as California (Burnam, Hough, Karno, Escovar, & Telles, 1987; Vega, Alderete et al., 1998), Texas (Farabee, Wallisch, & Maxwell, 1995), New York (Epstein, Botvin, & Diaz, 2001; Weite & Barnes, 1995), and Florida (Turner, Lloyd, & Taylor, 2006; Vega et al., 2002; Warheit, Vega, Khoury, Gil, & Elfenbein, 1996), states that have substantial Hispanic populations and a more significant Hispanic cultural influence than does Washington State.

Research indicates that Hispanics who live in heavily concentrated ethnic communities may acculturate or assimilate more slowly (see for example Wildsmith, 2004). This is important as Hispanics comprise a relatively modest portion of the population in the Pacific Northwest and this population is disproportionately rural. For example, 2005 U.S. Census data indicate that the Hispanic population in Washington State is 8.8% but there is considerable variation across counties, with urban counties (e. …

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