7.3 Family Influences on Substance Abuse

Family involvement and cohesion are key protective factors for substance abuse among immigrants (Bacio, Mays, & Lau, 2012; Kam, 2011; Prado et al., 2009; Pumariega, Millsaps, Rodriguez, Moser, & Pumariega, 2007). For example, the research team who conducted the neighborhood study addressed above hypothesized that the main protective characteristic against substance use and abuse was family involvement and cohesion. General family and ecological systems theories posit that family members influence each other as they interact on a regular basis. This might be especially true in the case of recently arrived immigrant families who are turn to each other for support.

Parenting style is one strong protective factor. For Latino/a adolescents, parenting style patterns were related to adolescent alcohol use or abstention (Driscoll, Russell, & Crockett, 2008). Driscoll et al. (2008) indicated that there was an increased amount of permissive parenting with successive generations of immigrants, and this parenting style was related to increased alcohol use among adolescents. Those that had authoritative parents did not have an increased risk of alcohol use (Driscoll et al., 2008). This suggests that parenting styles that are high on expectations and support (i.e., authoritative parenting; Baumrind, 1971) may serve as a protective factor against alcohol use for adolescents.

In addition to parenting being important, the general family environment can also influence substance use. For example, Schwartz, Mason, Pantin, & Szapocznik, (2008) indicated that family functioning influenced identity formation, and that adolescents in immigrant families with higher levels of identity confusion were more likely to initiate cigarette and alcohol use, in addition to initiating early sexual experiences. These findings indicate that family functioning can also serve as a protective factor in terms of initiating drug and alcohol behavior. It is important to put this into context as family cohesion pre-immigration has also been negatively correlated with drug use of young adults (Dillon, De La Rosa, Sanchez, & Schwartz, 2012).

The parent-child dyad seems to be of particular importance in the transmission of and uptake of substance abuse (Farrell & White, 1998). Farrel & White (1998) found that when mother-adolescent distress was high, risk of drug use increased among adolescents. In the context of displaced families, while high family cohesion is a protective factor, acculturated adolescents may see this cohesion as a challenge to their independence. If left unresolved, this can become a problem. Conflict between parents and children in immigrant Latino/a families predicted lifetime use of alcohol and binge drinking behaviors (Marsiglia, Kulis, Parsai, Villar, & Garcia, 2009). It is important to note that not all families immigrate together and the experience of separation can also impact substance use. For example, when mother-child separates there is an increased risk in terms of drug and alcohol use for adolescents (Mena, Mitrani, Muir, & Santisteban 2008). A second kind of separation can also influence risk factors. Conceptually, this separation relates to ambiguous loss (Boss, 1991), in that they occur when the parent is unable to care for the child due to financial, health (both physical and mental), and substance abuse problems (Mena et al., 2008).


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Immigrant and Refugee Families, 2nd Ed. Copyright © 2019 by Jaime Ballard, Elizabeth Wieling, Catherine Solheim, and Lekie Dwanyen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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