Drug Abuse and the Foreign Born

Picking up the drug habit in the U.S. of A. Exposure to American culture may be the culprit.

By Erik Strand, published on November 17, 2003 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Does American culture encourage drug use? Research has found that
foreign-born youths in the United States are less likely to use drugs
than their U.S.-born counterparts, but their risk of substance use gets
increasingly higher as they spend more time in the states.

Researchers surveyed 51,000 Americans ages 12 to 17, asking which
substances, if any, they had used in the past month, including alcohol,
cigarettes, marijuana and hard drugs. Foreign-born teens, which
represented 7.1 percent of the sample, were less likely to have used
drugs if they were newly arrived in the U.S., but over time their rate of
use gradually caught up to that of U.S.-born teens. By the time
foreign-born youths had been in the U.S. for 10 or more years, their drug
use was at the same level as that of teens born in the U.S.

Exposure to American culture may be behind the gradual rise in drug
use, say study authors Joseph Gfroerer and Lucilla Tan of the Substance
Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in Rockville, Maryland.
The influence of parents, peers, formal education and the media could all
affect teens' likelihood to use drugs.

Gfroerer views the pattern of drug use among foreign-born youths
optimistically. "Experts who design prevention programs can take
this into account," he suggests. "It provides an opportunity
to intervene in immigrants before they actually do become drug