Drug Abuse Risks for Acculturating Immigrant Adolescents: Case Study of Asian Indians in the United States

By Bhattacharya, Gauri | Health and Social Work, August 2002 | Go to article overview

Drug Abuse Risks for Acculturating Immigrant Adolescents: Case Study of Asian Indians in the United States


Bhattacharya, Gauri, Health and Social Work


Acculturation has been defined as the accumulative social learning process in which immigrants assimilate the values of their new, or host, country culture while retaining the values of their old, or country of origin, culture (Oetting & Beauvais, 1991; Padila, 1980). In immigrant families, U.S.-born or second generation children tend to acculturate more quickly than their foreign-born or first-generation parents (Austin, Prendergast, & Lee, 1989; Kim, Coletti, Williams, & Hepler, 1995). This generational difference in acculturation rate may result in stressful family conflicts over role expectations and individual behaviors. For example, in their study of Cuban immigrants, Szapocznik and Hernandez (1988) found that acculturation-related family conflicts precipitated delinquent behavior and drug abuse on the part of the younger generation.

ASIAN INDIANS IN THE UNITED STATES

Demographics

Asian Americans come from more than 20 ethnic groups and speak more than 30 different languages (O'Hare & Felt, 1995). Between 1990 and 2000, the Asian American population of the United States rose from 6,908,638 to 10,242,998, an increase of 48.3 percent. By 2000,787,047 Asian Americans were living in New York City. Of this number, 170,899 were Asian Indians (people originating in India), New York's second largest Asian American group after the Chinese (357,243). New York City, the focus of the present study, is home to 21 percent of all Asian Indians in the United States. Between 1990 and 2000, the Asian Indian population nationwide grew by 80.7 percent--a far more rapid increase than for Chinese (53.4 percent), Filipinos, (27.2 percent), and Japanese (34.5 percent) (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000). The increase of the Asian Indian population marks a dramatic shift in U.S. society's cultural composition. Many social work practitioners and researchers now emphasize the critical need to understand the family stresses this new immigrant population may encounter, especially during the acculturation process.

Prevalence of Drug Abuse among U.S.-Born Asian Indian Adolescents

An extensive literature search did not locate any empirical research studies that specifically examined drug use by U.S.-born Asian Indian adolescents. Studies of U.S.-born adolescents of Chinese and Japanese heritage, found that, wit acculturation, their use of drugs (including alcohol and tobacco) approached that of white youths (Chi, Lubben, & Kitano, 1989; Kitano & Chi, 1990). If they acculturate similarly to other Asian Americans, U.S.-born Asian Indian adolescents should demonstrate a comparable shift to "mainstream" levels of drug use. This prediction might also be made on the basis of articles critiquing the notion of Asians as a homogeneous "model minority" (Fong, 1992; Sue & Nakamura, 1984). However, it is also possible that the rates and patterns of drug use or abuse vary among the highly diverse subgroups of the Asian American population.

The present study ameliorates the lack of data on drug use among 115.-born Asian Indian adolescents. It documents drug use in a sample from this population; compares selected characteristics of drug users, nonusers, their peers, and their parents; and identifies sociocultural factors that may protect against or lead to drug abuse. Except in discussions focused on a single substance, the term "drug abuse" includes the abuse of alcohol. Because tobacco is a well-recognized gateway drug, its use was explored also.

The reduction of drug abuse among young people is a national goal. As counselors, outreach workers, case managers, and therapists, social workers provide prevention, intervention, and treatment services to clients from an increasing range of cultural groups. Scientific research on drug use, especially among ethnic minority groups, is essential to creating effective clinical interventions and public policies. …

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