New research from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health, released Tuesday in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, shows that higher levels of drinking among United States-Mexico border young adults are closely linked to their patterns of bar attendance, but not to how they think about drinking.
Due to a legal drinking age of 18 years, cheaper alcohol, and marketing tactics of local bars that specifically target young adults, Mexico is an attractive and geographically nearby destination where younger U.S. residents legally drink heavily. However, levels of drinking on the U.S. side are high even among young adults who did not recently travel to Mexico.
This new study examined whether two factors typical of risky drinking in Mexico – bar attendance and permissive alcohol-related social-cognitions – might also explain higher drinking on the U.S. side. It found that patterns of bar attendance were strongly linked to higher drinking among U.S. border young adults, but liberal social cognitions were not.
“We found that high levels of drinking among the border region’s young adult population can be explained by how often they attend bars, but not by their overt ways of thinking about drinking – for example, their attitudes towards drinking, beliefs about alcohol’s effects, or their personal reasons for drinking,” said Dr. Britain A. Mills, study author and faculty associate at the UTHealth School of Public Health Dallas Regional Campus. “This is important because it indicates that increases in drinking among U.S. border young adults are more a product of their environmental surroundings than any deliberative choice to drink more.”
Researchers for the study collected data from representative samples of adult Mexican Americans on and off the U.S.-Mexico Border. Using data from 1,351 current drinkers, study authors used statistical models to compare drinking context – such as frequency of bar attendance – and six different social-cognitive variables, including alcohol-related attitudes, norms, motives, and beliefs, as mediators of border effects on drinking.
“Younger age groups often travel to Mexico specifically to drink legally. This generally happens at local bars in the region, which target younger ages with all-you-can drink and ladies’ night specials, and in general, by promoting a party-like atmosphere,” said Dr. Mills, adding, “We were interested in understanding how these types of factors are related to drinking on the U.S. side of the border more generally.”
“The alerts about binge drinking and alcohol-related problems like drunk driving for U.S. young adults living along the U.S.-Mexico border have correctly been concerned about young adults crossing into Mexico to drink,” added Dr. Karen G. Chartier, assistant professor in research in the School of Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University. “However, the key point made by this study is that these concerns should not be limited to a focus on young adults crossing into Mexico. Elevated drinking for Mexican-American young adults living along the border is also associated with more frequent bar attendance more generally on both sides of the border.”
Mexican Americans who were 18 to 29 years old and living on the border drank more alcohol than their counterparts living off the border, and attending and drinking in bars more frequently was associated with increased drinking in this group.