The Relationship Between Spanish Language Use and Substance Use Behaviors Among Latino Youth

A Social Network Approach

Published In: Journal of Adolescent Health, v. 43, no. 4, Oct. 2008, p. 372-379

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2007

by Michele L. Allen, Marc N. Elliott, Andrew J. Fuligni, Leo S. Morales, Katrin Hambarsoomian, Mark A. Schuster

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PURPOSE: Greater acculturation is associated with higher rates of substance use among Latino adolescents, but the reasons are poorly understood. One potential explanation is that social networks change with acculturation, leading to decreased protection and increased risk. Our objective was to identify Spanish language-sensitive individual and social network attributes associated with substance use in Latino adolescents. METHODS: Latino eighth-grade students in a Los Angeles public middle school completed a computerized, self-administered survey about tobacco, alcohol, drug use, and parental monitoring; and description of 30 social network members. Regression analyses were used to estimate the independent associations of network-level Spanish language use and other factors with a substance use behavior scale. Mediation analysis identified Spanish language-sensitive attributes. RESULTS: Network-level Spanish language use was associated with a substance use scale in bivariate but not multivariate models. Protective Spanish language-sensitive attributes included greater numbers of extended family members in the network, less substance use among network members, and greater perceived parental monitoring. Risky Spanish language-insensitive attributes include more high school aged network members. CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that parental monitoring and some characteristics of social networks account for the relationship between Spanish language use and substance use among Latino adolescents. Clinic- or community-based interventions that enhance protective characteristics of social networks in Latino adolescents may be effective.

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