How the Social Environment Impacts Substance Abuse in Hispanic Teens

Recent studies have shown that the family and school environments can both protect Hispanic teens from and put them at risk for substance abuse. Many factors go into the initiation of substance abuse, including individual factors. However, the latest research is helping to pinpoint how external, social factors affect young Hispanics and may either lead them to substance abuse or prevent them from experimenting. Understanding these factors can help schools and communities develop strategies for preventing substance abuse in young people.

School Environment and Substance Abuse

While there are highly individual reasons why teens begin using drugs, alcohol or cigarettes, more and more research is finding that the social environment plays a big role, too. Young Hispanics spend a large portion of time each day at school, which means that it is an important environment for consideration of initiation of substance abuse. One recent study looked at Hispanic students in middle school and factors of the school environment that either did or did not impact substance abuse. The researchers found that the socioeconomic status of the school and the school climate indirectly led to initiation of substance use in a significant number of students. The researchers believe that these indirect effects were related to how students perceived their peers at school. If they perceived peers to be using substances, they were more likely to follow suit. They found no relationship between the ethnic composition of the school and use of drugs or alcohol.

Family Environment and Substance Abuse

The other important social environment for young people is the family. School and the home are the two places young people spend most of their time, and each one influences teens in different ways. For all young people, not just Hispanic students, family factors can be highly protective against drug use. When the family unit is strong and supportive, teens are less likely to use drugs or alcohol. Also protecting teens is strong parental involvement. Parents who are highly involved in their teens’ lives and talk to them regularly are better able to prevent them from experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Another interesting factor is parent and teen perception of drug use and abuse. When teens perceive their parents as having a relaxed attitude toward drugs and alcohol, they are more likely to experiment. This is especially true with prescription drug abuse. When parents perceive these drugs to be low risk, or teens think their parents see them that way, their children are more likely to abuse them. Hispanic teens have a unique advantage when it comes to family protective factors. Research has shown that cultural traditions in Hispanic families protect teens from abusing substances. Traditional values like respect for elders and the family, engaging in cultural activities, a strong cultural identity and social responsibility within the community have been shown to strengthen family bonds for Hispanic teens, and in turn provide an important protective factor against using drugs or alcohol. Studies and surveys demonstrate that Hispanic youth in general are at a greater risk for substance abuse than their peers. For this reason it is important that researchers uncover the risk factors, those things that lead young Hispanic students to start using drugs and alcohol. It is also important to identify the protective factors, and effective ways to treat addiction in these youth. With this information, prevention can be more effective by reducing or mitigating risk factors and increasing protective factors.

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