Handbook for Conducting Drug Abuse Research with Hispanic Populations

By Acevedo, Gregory | Contemporary Drug Problems, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Handbook for Conducting Drug Abuse Research with Hispanic Populations

Acevedo, Gregory, Contemporary Drug Problems

Handbook for Conducting Drug Abuse Research with Hispanic Populations, by Robert C. Freeman, Yvonne P. Lewis, and Hector Manuel Colon (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002), 368 pp., $72 (cloth only).

One of the primary goals of drug abuse research is to predict outcomes such as "addiction" while controlling for individual or group differences. The identification of "risk and protective factors" attracts much scientific attention, and one assumes that ultimately this knowledge improves prevention and treatment efforts. The investigation of drug abuse among Latinos requires an especially nuanced conceptual and methodological framework that appropriately models a number of dimensions that determine within- and between-group variation. Drug type, socioeconomic status, educational attainment, Englishlanguage proficiency, national origin, race, gender, community characteristics, and acculturation level may all be determinants of drug abuse among Hispanics.

Acculturation is the level of cultural "assimilation" or incorporation of an individual to a "foreign" or receiving society; it is central to many studies of drug abuse among Latinos. The experience of transitioning into a new culture may lead to "acculturation stress": social and psychological stress associated with the challenges of immigration, such as lower socioeconomic status, new social expectations, loss of ethnic identity, and intergenerational family conflict. Acculturation influences socialization, social support networks, and protective factors.

To contend with issues of demographic diversity and acculturation, drug abuse research with Latinos inevitably must utilize multilevel models that can account for personallevel variables (i.e., behavior, biology and neurobiology) and also include cultural and environmental variables that may lead to systematic differences (e.g., socioeconomic status).

One of the most sophisticated models of how Latino cultural adaptation influences drug abuse, and health behavior in general, can be found in the work of Vega and Gil (1999). This model seeks to account for observed differences in health outcomes between native-born Latino adolescents and immigrant Hispanic adolescents. The model sorts factors into five categories: "context of exit," accounting for the family's developmental stage and circumstances prior to exit; "immigration experience," concerning the family's circumstances encountered upon exit and entrance; "acculturation process" and "acculturation stress" as experienced by the parents and children, and influenced by each family member's individual level of assimilation; "segmented assimilation" of family members into the local environment-for example, local housing and labor markets and school systems; and "family stress" resulting from loss of traditional family customs, acculturation stress, and changing family roles.

De La Rosa (2002) also developed a model that accounts for the influence of acculturation on Latino adolescent drug behavior. The outcomes in the model are alcohol, cigarette, and illicit substance abuse. It centers on a typology of cultural identity that contrasts the relative weight "Latino" and "American" cultural influences might have on a Hispanic youth. Latino adolescents can have a cultural identity that is "low Latino-low American," "low Latino-high American," "high Latino-low American," or "high Latino-high American." The model includes a host of mitigating factors that determine the level of "acculturation stress" experienced by Hispanic adolescents. These mitigating influences are "individual factors and characteristics" (for example, skin color, tolerance for change, and previous contact with American culture); "family factors," including economic conditions and family members' previous contact with American culture; and the "community environment," which is affected by school conditions, economic opportunities, crime level, and cultural orientation. The responses to acculturation stress and the degree of coping with it are determined by the "family factors" of parent-child bonding and family dysfunction; "personality variables" of low selfesteem, aggressive behavior, and anxiety; and "peer factors," in particular the association with either deviant or nondeviant peers.

Both models of Latino adolescent drug behavior demonstrate the level of complexity and specification required in conducting drug abuse research with Hispanic populations. The influence of immigration is powerful and relates to issues of acculturation, documentation, and service utilization; often the life-threatening passages of immigration may lead to trauma. Latino socioeconomic conditions in the U.S. involve such issues as low-wage labor markets, ethnic economies, poverty, and low levels of educational attainment. Immigration and socioeconomic conditions shape the formation of social networks, communities, households, and families, and are complicated by mobility and urban living. Racial and ethnic differences in drug behavior further complicate the conduct of research among Hispanic populations. Native-born Latinos are different from immigrant Hispanics, and race operates as both a group-level and an individual-level variable.

Conducting drug abuse research with Latinos requires the development of theory-driven models that can account for a range of societal, community, and individual-level variables. This is no simple task. For example, at the societal and community level, drug abuse research might devote more attention to the fact that many Latin American and Spanishspeaking Caribbean nations are not only a principal source of Hispanic immigrants but also major drug-producing nations. Many Hispanic migrant and drug networks operate within the same "barrios" (neighborhoods). Domestically, many drug zones that are the focus of law enforcement interdiction efforts are located in Latino barrios, where illicit informal economies such as the drug trade are "viable" alternatives to the formal labor market, particularly among adolescents and young adults. In terms of variation, the investigation of individual-level variables cannot sidestep issues of experience and behavior, and the fuzzy realm of "meaning" and behavior. The conduct of drug abuse research with Hispanic populations necessitates the full deployment of research methods, perhaps most especially ethnographic methods; but the Latino experience makes the ever-present concern regarding the "outsider" role and cross-cultural research even more vexing.

In Handbook for Conducting Drug Abuse Research with Hispanic Populations, Freeman, Lewis, and Colon thoroughly discuss and analyze the literature on drug abuse among Latino populations and present a handbook that is conceptually and technically proficient. The first chapter provides two foundational overviews: a detailed demographic profile of the Hispanic population and a cogent review of the literature on drug abuse among Latinos in the United States. The remaining chapters provide information about all phases of conducting drug abuse research with Hispanic populations: preliminary considerations (Chapter 2: "Setting the Stage for the Research"), recruitment (Chapter 3: "Recruitment of Hispanic Research Participants"), data collection and analysis (Chapter 4: "Instrumentation, Data Collection, and Analysis Issues"), retention and follow-up (Chapter 5: "Retention and Followup of Hispanic Research Participants"), and dissemination of knowledge (Chapter 6: "Technology Transfer for Research Programs to the Hispanic Community").

Although specifically about Hispanics, the handbook also serves as a general primer on the "ins and outs" of doing community-based drug abuse research and for conducting research on illicit drugs. It is an accomplished reference tool. The demographic material on the Latino population in the U.S. provided in the initial chapter is wide ranging and current.

The appendices enhance the reference capabilities of the text. Appendix A provides a listing of selected websites from which to retrieve information regarding the census, immigration, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, drug abuse treatment services, research funding, statistical software, participant tracking tools, informed consent, Geographic Information Systems, technology transfer, research institutes that focus on Latino issues, legal assistance, government, issues related to farm workers, and a listing of Hispanic/Latino health, education, and welfare organizations. Appendix B provides an extensive listing of acculturation scales, an indispensable tool for conducting research with Hispanics. Appendices C through F pertain directly to research: samples of informed consent and participant locator forms, suggestions for advanced tracking strategies, and a sample script demonstrating how researchers can respond to participant concerns during a phone interview. The book also includes a glossary of terms about Latinos and drug abuse research, a fairly exhaustive reference list, and an illustrative CD that is an engaging and useful teaching tool.

The book presents one of the best reviews to date of the issue of acculturation, with a critical overview of the acculturation literature and of related determinants of drug abuse among Hispanics: migration and immigration, culture, language, and identity.

In sum, Freeman, Lewis, and Colon have provided an extraordinarily useful conceptual and methodological tool kit for conducting drug abuse research with Hispanic populations. It is notable for its sensitivity to the small contexts and large social forces that shape individual experiences.



De La Rosa, Mario (2002). "Acculturation and Latino adolescents' substance use: A research agenda for thé future." Substance Use & Misuse, 37(4), 429-456.

Vega, William A. & GiI, Andres G. (1999). "A model for explaining drug use behavior among Hispanic adolescents." Drugs & Society, 14 (1/2), 57-74.

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