Border State

Perceived discrimination drives Mexican youths in Arizona to drink and smoke

December 15, 2010 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) Perceived ethnic discrimination among Mexican and Mexican-American students from Phoenix-area middle schools puts them at risk for drug abuse.

As students try to adjust to American cultural norms, stress related to discrimination can push them to indulge in alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana, according to a new study from Ohio State University, which followed 1,106 youths of Mexican heritage in 29 public middle schools in Phoenix, AZ. Students completed surveys in six waves from fifth through eighth grades.

"Acculturation stress is often associated with anxiety, anger and depression," said lead author Jennifer Kam, PhD, Assistant Professor in the School of Communication. "It is a complex process that involves challenges and troubles that often stem from tension between one's native culture and the mainstream culture."

Kam said these stresses are amplified when they involve discrimination, which can lead to higher drug-use rates.

According to the study, the findings may partially explain why national data on adolescent drug use has found that Latino students report some of the highest alcohol, cigarette, and other drug-use rates in the country.

The findings of the study correlate with what experts have termed "general strain theory," in which individuals encounter strains (e.g., discrimination) when they are subjected to experiences that they dislike or feel are unjust, which often leads to negative psychological or emotional reactions (e.g., acculturation stress).

Perceived discrimination was measured by asking students: "Thinking about your ethnic group, (race or culture), do you agree or disagree with the following?" Sample items included: "People don't like me because of my ethnic group," and "Kids my age exclude me from their activities or games because my ethnic group is different."

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Review Date: 
December 15, 2010
Last Updated:
December 15, 2010