Acculturation Issues, Family Conflicts Increase Odds for Substance Abuse Among Asian Americans, Latinos

Acculturation Issues, Family Conflicts Increase Odds for Substance Abuse Among Asian Americans, Latinos

Substance use disorders are the group of mental health conditions used to identify people affected by various forms of substance addiction, or by various forms of dysfunctional, non-addicted substance abuse. Specific segments of the population may have unique risks for developing any one of these disorders. In a study published in June 2014 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University used information from a nationwide project called the National Latino and Asian American Study to determine if people of Asian American and Hispanic/Latino descent have particular risks for developing diagnosable problems related to the use of drugs or alcohol

Substance Use Disorders

In the U.S., the standard definitions for all substance use disorders were issued in 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association, which publishes a widely used guide for practicing physicians called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Specific conditions that fall under this general heading include alcohol use disorder, cannabis use disorder, stimulant use disorder, opioid use disorder, tobacco use disorder, inhalant use disorder, phencyclidine use disorder, other hallucinogen use disorder and sedative, hypnotic or anxiolytic use disorder. All of these conditions include symptoms related to the non-addicted abuse of a given substance, as well as symptoms of physically dependent addiction. This common classification of abuse and addiction symptoms marks a significant break from previous thinking on substance problems, which required separate diagnoses for abuse-related symptoms and addiction-related symptoms. The change reflects a modern consensus that any given person can simultaneously have indications of both substance abuse and addiction.

The National Latino and Asian American Study

The National Latino and Asian American Study (NLAAS) was undertaken in 2002 and 2003 by several federal agencies, including the National Institute of Mental Health and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It was designed as a nationwide investigation of mental illness-related issues in all Asian Americans and Hispanic/Latinos over the age of 17, as well as an investigation into how often the members of these segments of the population use mental health-related services. Since issues of substance abuse and substance addiction are deeply rooted in matters of mental health, they formed part of the NLAAS. The survey also included detailed assessments of the underlying factors that can increase or decrease any given person of Asian American or Hispanic/Latino descent’s chances of developing problems with substance use or any other mental health concern.

Are There Unique Risks?

In the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the Virginia Commonwealth University researchers used data drawn from 4,649 participants in the National Latino and Asian American Study to determine if individuals from these racial/ethnic backgrounds have risks for substance use disorder not typically found in the larger adult U.S. population. In part, these researchers wanted to know if relatively recent immigrants in Asian American and Hispanic/Latino communities have special susceptibilities to substance use disorder.

All told, the researchers found that almost 10 percent of the study participants with Hispanic/Latino heritage had experienced problems with a substance use disorder at some point in their lives. Among the Asian American participants, the lifetime rate of substance use disorder was 4.1 percent. The researchers identified three factors that can increase the odds that a person of Asian American or Hispanic/Latino descent will develop a diagnosable issue with alcohol and/or drugs: a need to adapt to the particularities of the larger American culture, experiencing acts of discrimination on the part of others and having substantial conflicts within the family unit. Conversely, two factors were found to decrease the odds for experiencing substance-related problems: living in a safe neighborhood and having a close-knit, functional family unit.

The study’s authors note while living in a safe neighborhood plays a role in reducing risk, living in a socially close-knit neighborhood has neither a positive nor a negative impact. They authors also note that the influence of family-related factors is apparently secondary to the influence of other factors, including the psychological relationship between the individual and his or her surrounding environment. Finally, the authors concluded that substance-related factors in Asian American and Hispanic/Latino communities don’t vary much among people of different ages or specific countries of origin.

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