A Two-Year Study of Patterns and Predictors of Substance Use among Mexican American Youth

By Zapata, Jesse T.; Katims, David S. et al. | Adolescence, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

A Two-Year Study of Patterns and Predictors of Substance Use among Mexican American Youth


Zapata, Jesse T., Katims, David S., Yin, Zenong, Adolescence


A number of longitudinal studies concerning licit and illicit substance use among adolescent and preadolescent populations have been conducted (see, for example, Huizinga, Loeber, & Thornberry, 1993; Maddahian, Newcomb, & Bentler, 1985; Windle, 1990). Each of these studies investigated a particular combination of correlates, predictors, or risk factors associated with substance use. Of particular interest are those studies that focused on individual attributes, characteristics, situations, and environmental conditions that may increase the probability of substance use and abuse by school-age youth.

Specific risk factors for the initiation and use of substances by youngsters have been identified in both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies (Brook, Whiteman, Gordon, Nomura, & Brook, 1986; Newcomb, Chou, Bentler, & Huba, 1988; Wingard, Huba, & Bentler, 1979; Shedler & Block, 1990; Hawkins, Lishner, & Catalano, 1985; Rhodes & Jason, 1988). These risk factors include early antisocial behavior, depression, anxiety, socioeconomic status, hyperactivity, academic failure, lack of commitment to school, alienation, rebelliousness, and lack of social bonding.

In these studies, the number of risk factors to which youth are exposed has been linearly associated with substance use and abuse. These findings corroborate and substantially extend the preliminary work of Bry, McKeon, and Pandina (1982) and suggest that a risk-factor model of substance use is not unlike that of other epidemiological phenomena (e.g., heart disease, HIV) which follow patterns of vulnerability and susceptibility due to increased exposure to risk. Initiation and continued use of substances may be attributed to a risk factor or a combination of risk factors. The number of risk factors present directly increases the likelihood of drug use and abuse (Brook et al., 1986; Clayton, 1992; Newcomb, 1992).

Although these studies have shed light on the problem of substance use and associated risk factors among adolescents and preadolescents, only a few longitudinal investigations have included Hispanics as subjects. Those studies that have included Hispanics have traditionally focused on comparisons with whites. Within this context, some investigators suggest that risk factors associated with substance use may operate in much the same way for Hispanics as they do for non-Hispanics (Vega, Zimmerman, Warheit, Apospori, & Gil, 1992; De Barona & Simpson, 1984). Other researchers indicate that there are substantive differences between Hispanic and white youth in the patterns, frequency, and predictors of substance use (Chavez & Swaim, 1992; Fredlund, Spence, & Maxwell, 1989). Until recently, more white youth engaged in substance use than did Hispanic youth (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 1994; Rebach, 1991), contradicting traditional stereotypes about substance use among minorities.

Researchers have suggested that this comparative approach ignores intragroup variations among Hispanics. De La Rosa, Khalsa, and Rouse (1990) have concluded that there are substantial differences between Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans in their substance use. In addition, Hispanic subgroups may be exposed differentially to risk factors (Vega et al., 1992). As Mexican Americans make up 63% of the Hispanic populations in the United States and are one of the fastest growing ethnic minorities in the country (Knouse, Rosenfeld, & Culbertson, 1992), it is important to understand substance use issues in the population.

The objectives of the present longitudinal study were to determine patterns of substance use from year one to year two and to examine the relationship between risk factors and the initiation of substance use across both years for a sample of low socioeconomic status Mexican American youth. Demographic, environmental, and psychological characteristics of elementary and middle school students and their use of nine substances were examined via a self-report survey. …

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