Abstract: The Relationship between Immigrant Generation, Discrimination, and Substance Use Coping Among African Immigrants (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

321P The Relationship between Immigrant Generation, Discrimination, and Substance Use Coping Among African Immigrants

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Miranda Wilcock, MSW Student, Brigham Young University, UT
Sherinah Saasa, PhD, Assistant Professor, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
Background and Purpose: This study explores factors that affect substance use coping among first- and second-generation African immigrants. Though they represent a growing percentage of the immigrant population in the United States, African immigrants have been underrepresented in social work research. Previous research on other immigrant populations has shown that, even with access to adaptive coping strategies, the stressors associated with acclimating to a new country can have negative psychological effects and increase risk for ineffective coping strategies such as alcohol and substance use. There is limited research on African immigrant coping—a gap this study hopes to fill.  

Method:  A cross-sectional survey was distributed to a sample of African immigrants in the U.S. Of the 409 participants, about 51% identified as first-generation immigrants and 49% as second-generation. The average respondent was 31.87 years, with the majority being female (68%), black (84 %), with a bachelor’s degree or more (58%), and with income below $35,000 (48%). The dependent variable, substance use coping, was derived from the Brief Cope scale. Logistic regression analysis was used to examine the effect of immigrant generation and discrimination on the likelihood of substance use as a coping strategy. Age, gender, race, education, income and mental health symptoms (depression and anxiety) were included as control variables.  

Results: The majority of respondents (71%) reported not using alcohol or drugs to cope. We also found significant differences in education and mental health symptoms between first and second-generation immigrants. In the logistic regression analysis, whether a respondent was first or second-generation was shown to be a statistically significant predictor of coping with substance use. Second-generation immigrants were two times more likely to use substances to cope compared to first-generation immigrants (p < .01).  In addition, participants with higher rates of discrimination, and those with higher levels of depression and anxiety symptoms, had increased likelihood of substance use coping (p < .001). This model accounted for about 32% of variance in substance use coping. 

Conclusions and Implications: These findings suggest that immigrant generation plays a significant role in substance use coping among the African immigrant population. The study also highlights supportive evidence of the negative effects of discrimination and mental health distress on coping. An understanding of coping strategies utilized by African immigrants in the face of numerous stressors is important for social work practitioners and researchers. Taking into account the importance of cultural competence and cultural humility when working with diverse immigrant populations, further exploration on immigrant-generation variants in coping strategies and factors affecting the wellbeing of African immigrants is needed.