Substance Use and Cumulative Exposure to American Society

Findings from Both Sides of the US-Mexico Border Region

Published in: American Journal of Public Health, v. 106, no. 1, Jan. 2016, p. 119-127

Posted on RAND.org on November 19, 2015

by Guilherme Borges, Cheryl J. Cherpitel, Ricardo Orozco, Sarah E. Zemore, Lynn Wallisch, María Elena Icaza Medina-Mora, Joshua Breslau

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Research Questions

  1. Do early age of immigration and increasing time and contact with the U.S. culture increase alcohol use, drug use, alcohol use disorders, and symptoms of drug use disorder?
  2. Is the evidence consistent across studies?

OBJECTIVES: We investigated whether Mexican immigration to the United States exerts transnational effects on substance use in Mexico and the United States. METHODS: We performed a cross-sectional survey of 2336 Mexican Americans and 2460 Mexicans in 3 Texas border metropolitan areas and their sister cities in Mexico (the US–Mexico Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions, 2011–2013). We collected prevalence and risk factors for alcohol and drug use; Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, alcohol-use disorders; and 2 symptoms (hazardous use and quit or control) of drug use disorder across a continuum of migration experiences in the Mexican and Mexican American populations. RESULTS: Compared with Mexicans with no migrant experience, the adjusted odds ratios for this continuum of migration experiences ranged from 1.10 to 8.85 for 12-month drug use, 1.09 to 5.07 for 12-month alcohol use disorder, and 1.13 to 9.95 for 12-month drug-use disorder. Odds ratios increased with longer exposure to US society. These findings are consistent with those of 3 previous studies. CONCLUSIONS: People of Mexican origin have increased prevalence of substance use and disorders with cumulative exposure to US society.

Key Findings

  • The project found that the prevalence of substance use tended to increase with increasing exposure to U.S. society. As just one example, the prevalence of lifetime drug use was 10.5% among Mexicans with no migrant experience versus 38% for immigrants who came to the U.S. as children or adolescents.
  • The associations of immigration with drug use and drug use disorders are consistently higher than those for alcohol use and disorders. This is true across all Mexican migration groups.
  • The evidence for these patterns is consistent across studies.
  • Although U.S.-born Mexican Americans have levels of alcohol and drug use and disorders that are much higher than those of Mexicans in Mexico, evidence also suggests that they do not differ substantially from other U.S.-born groups.

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