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Hispanic Kids at Greater Risk of Substance Use

By September 8, 2010

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If you are Hispanic and have children of middle school age, you may want to make sure that you do all you can to keep them away from substance abuse. That's because a new study has found that of all the ethnic groups and races, Hispanic teens are more likely than other students to have used alcohol, tobacco and marijuana.

Conversely, Asian students had the lowest rates of substance abuse compared to Hispanic, white and African American students.

One limitation of the new RAND Corporation study, which was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, is that it surveyed 5,500 seventh- and eighth-grade students at 16 California schools. The results may not be the same in other areas of the country.

Personal Factors Affect Decisions

However, the research found that not only did substance abuse rates vary from one ethnic group to another, but the reasons that the teens did or did not use drugs varied greatly.

For Hispanic middle schoolers, the researchers found that whether they personally believed that drinking, smoking and drug use had negative consequences was a factor in deciding whether or not to use substances. Hispanic youth also relied more on their personal confidence to "say no" to drugs and alcohol.

On the other hand, the researchers found among Asian teens, factors outside themselves - such as respect for their parents and lower rates of substance abuse among siblings and peers - were more important factors in avoiding drugs and alcohol.

'Culturally Appropriate' Interventions

The RAND Corporation survey of 5,500 students found overall that:

  • 22 percent had used alcohol
  • 10 percent smoked cigarettes
  • 7 percent had smoked marijuana.

The researchers recommended that "culturally appropriate" prevention and intervention programs could reduce substance abuse during middle school, a time when many teens first come in contact with alcohol and drugs.

Parents Play a Big Role

"Most interventions haven't really been tailored to be culturally appropriate," according to Regina A. Shih, Ph.D., of the RAND Corporation in a news release. Shin said programs that teach children to resist pressure to smoke, drink or use drugs can be effective with those who depend on personal factors in making substance abuse decisions.

For those who view other factors in making choices about drugs, programs that encourage parent-child communications and that encourage teens' sense of family responsibility could be effective.

"It is important for parents to be aware that many youth initiate substance use during the middle school years, and parents can help their teen make healthier choices by monitoring their activities and talking with them about these issues," Shih said.

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