Latino immigrant men have been found to consume less alcohol upon moving to the United States, compared to their pre-immigration drinking patterns, according to a study by researchers at the Florida International University Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), Latino populations have disproportionate rates of alcohol-related consequences compared to other ethnic or racial groups. These include legal and health consequences, such as some of the highest rates of alcohol-related cirrhosis. Researchers were surprised to find that upon moving to the United States, there were decreases in alcohol use in men, with no significant change in women.
Funded by the NIAAA, this is the first community-based investigation to examine the influence of pre-immigration social and cultural factors on the adaptation process and alcohol use and misuse of young adult recent Latino immigrants in Miami-Dade County. Researchers from FIU’s Center for Research on U.S. Latino HIV/AIDS and Drug Abuse (CRUSADA) followed more than 500 documented and undocumented immigrants representing 17 countries during their first decade of living in the U.S. Participants were asked to classify their alcohol consumption – based on frequency and quantity – before they moved to the U.S. and throughout the 10-year study.
The finding could help in the development of intervention strategies to continue and maintain the decreasing rates of post-immigration alcohol use among Latino immigrant men and address the growing problem of alcohol use among Latina immigrants.
Since the mid-1980s, researchers have believed in the “healthy immigrant effect,” a term coined by J.W Berry that notes the phenomenon that Latino immigrants arriving in the U.S. are, on average, healthier than their native-born counterparts, yet their health declines the longer they live in the U.S.
“These [new] findings challenge our previous perceptions that increased time in the United States leads to worsening health outcomes, including alcohol misuse among Latino immigrants,” said Dr. Mario De La Rosa, the principal investigator of the study, who is a professor of social work in the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work and director of CRUSADA. “We are now also examining what differences and similarities, if any, exist in the drinking patterns of young adult Latino immigrants from varying national origins so that prevention interventions, programs, and social media campaigns may be developed to target alcohol misuse among Latinos from different countries who live in South Florida.”
Accounting for pre-immigration experiences is essential since immigrants arrive with varying financial resources, cultural values, social connections, and coping styles – all of which have been found to considerably influence their ability to adapt to life in the U.S.
“We know that Latino immigrants who arrive in the United States and find a sense of community and social support are less likely to fall into unhealthy patterns such as alcohol misuse,” said Dr. Mariana Sanchez, assistant professor in the department of health promotion & disease prevention and project director for the study. “This study really highlights the importance of conducting research that leads to the development of substance use prevention programs that give immigrants the best opportunity to be healthy and successful.”