Early Alcohol Use Among Hispanic Adolescents in the United States: An Examination of Behavioral Risk and Protective Profiles
Compared to non-Hispanic whites and African-Americans, Hispanics initiate alcohol use at younger ages (CDC, 2012) and tend to use alcohol and become intoxicated with substantially greater frequency during the critical developmental period of early adolescence (Johnston O’Malley, Bachman, & Schulenberg, 2013). Despite these well-documented disparities, few studies have systematically examined the behavioral and protective correlates of alcohol use in early adolescence among Hispanics in the United States. Given that Hispanics represent the largest and fastest growing minority group in United States (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011), early and frequent alcohol use among Hispanic adolescents, as well as the associated psychosocial and behavioral correlates of such use, are phenomena that are of great importance to social work research and practice. As such, the goal of this study is two-fold: first, to describe the behavioral and psychosocial associations with alcohol use and, second, to explore the psychosocial and behavioral profiles of young Hispanic drinkers in the United States.
The study sample consists of a nationally representative sample of 7,606 Hispanic adolescents between the ages of 12 and 14 from the 2006-2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. A single-item (1 = yes, 0 = no) measure of alcohol use was used to assess alcohol use in the previous 30 days. Variables examining externalizing behavior included the use of other illicit substances (tobacco, marijuana, illicit drugs) as well as participation in delinquent (truancy, theft, drug selling) and violent behavior (fighting, group fighting, violent attacks). Psychosocial protective factors tapped adolescent strengths in the domains of academic involvement, self-control, religiosity, and normative beliefs. Statistical analyses consisted of two main components: First, logistic regression was used to examine the direct associations between alcohol use, externalizing behavior, and psychosocial protective correlates. Second, latent profile analysis and multinomial regression were executed to identify and distinguish latent psychosocial subgroups of early adolescent Hispanic alcohol users (N = 540).
Results indicate that early alcohol use is associated with a spectrum of externalizing behaviors as well as psychosocial factors such as parental academic support, religiosity, normative beliefs, and self-control. Additionally, three latent psychosocial classes were identified, including: a psychosocial risk class (41.11%), a moderate protection class (39.44%), and a highly religious class (19.44%). Compared to the psychosocial risk class, membership in the moderate protection class was associated with fewer alcohol use days and the decreased likelihood of marijuana use, truancy, and fighting. Membership in the highly religious class was protective for binge alcohol use and truancy.
Conclusions and Implications:
Overall, compared to their abstinent counterparts, young Hispanic alcohol users enjoy fewer psychosocial protections and are more likely to use other illicit substances and take part in delinquent behavior. However, despite the associations identified in the aggregate, study findings also suggest that not all early Hispanic drinkers experience the same level of risk or are involved in externalizing behavior to the same degree. Authors discuss these multifaceted findings and their implications for the need to design differential assessment and intervention efforts for this increasingly important population.