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Previous research has shown that immigrant groups that acculturate to mainstream American culture tend to have more alcohol-related problems. Most of this research, however, has been conducted among Hispanic populations living in U.S. metropolitan areas. A study of Hispanic populations along the Texas-Mexico border has found that acculturation appears to have different effects on drinking by men and women.
Results are published in the February issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
"As immigrant groups acculturate to mainstream America, at least in the case of alcohol, because U.S. norms regulating alcohol use are more liberal than those of other countries, especially regarding drinking by women, as women acculturate they drink more," explained Raul Caetano, professor of epidemiology and regional dean (Dallas) at The University of Texas School of Public Health as well as the study's corresponding author. "With men it may be the fact that acculturated men have higher incomes and may have more disposable income to buy alcohol."
Although the factor of acculturation may be different, the consequences are all too familiar: problems with family, work, drinking and driving, alcohol dependence, etc.
Caetano and his colleagues chose to focus on the Texas-Mexico border for several reasons. "Texas has the largest part of the border, and most of the population living on the border," he said. "Also, the previous research was fragmented and not very conclusive."
"The border is an unique, complex and rich environment," added Hector Balcazar, regional dean of the El Paso Regional Campus, University of Texas School of Public Health, "both regarding acculturation, and the role that acculturation plays in affecting drinking behavior. This is also the first study of this nature in the border area."
Researchers analyzed data gathered from a 2002-2003 survey conducted in El Paso, the Rio Grande Valley, and an unspecified number of colonias (border settlements, often poverty stricken). Of the 1,200 face-to-face interviews that were conducted, a total of 472 male and 484 female Hispanic adults were included in an analysis to investigate their degree of acculturation, drinking patterns, and applicability of diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse and dependence. Respondents were coded into four acculturation categories: very Mexican oriented, bicultural-Mexican, bicultural-Anglo, or very Anglo/Anglicized.
"There is a clear differential effect of acculturation by gender," said Caetano. "While this was shown in previous research, the effects on the border seem to be more accentuated. Men drank less as they acculturated, and had a lower prevalence of alcohol-use disorders. Women drank more with acculturation, but this did not seem to lead to a higher rate of alcohol use disorders."
Caetano said these findings help to clarify that the border population of mostly Mexican Americans and their alcohol use is different from that of the rest of the country. "It is not possible to assume that acculturation will have the same effect on drinking across gender, age or ethnic groups in the United States," he said. "Furthermore, readers should understand that drinking is a product of personality characteristics and the environment. As these change, drinking will change as well."
Balcazar recommended that future research develop methods to better understand biculturalism, as well as the environment and ecology of the border region. This study, he said, has helped to highlight the phenomenon of acculturation, especially in places like El Paso-Juarez, where two cultures can come together to interact in many different ways.
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