The association of acculturation, social support, and alcohol use among Mexican American adults

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Background: The increasing diversity of the U.S. population and the tremendous growth of the elderly population in the U.S. pose a challenge for public health practice. Mexican Americans (MAs) comprise the largest U.S. Hispanic subgroup. Previous research has shown alcohol use among MA adults varies by sex, age, acculturation level, socioeconomic status, and other factors.

Purpose: This study explored the association of social, cultural, and demographic factors among MA adults. Berry's acculturation model (1980) and social support theory provided the theoretical underpinnings for this study. Multiple proxy measures of acculturation were used: a 5 item language subscale, generation level, and length of time in the United States. The association of social support and alcohol use among MAs 60 years and older was assessed using NHANES social support interview data.

Methods: A secondary data analysis of 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data was conducted with a nationally representative sample of 1,682 MAs 40 years of age and older. Psychometric testing was performed with a language use scale and social support index. Descriptive statistics and logistic regression analyses were conducted to examine the predictors of lifetime abstention and current alcohol use.

Results: Acculturation was associated with lifetime abstention and current alcohol use among females. Lifetime alcohol abstention rates were higher among less acculturated females, and a majority of female current drinkers were light alcohol users. Among males, lifetime alcohol abstention rates were very low. Light or moderate alcohol use was reported by two-thirds of males. Socioeconomic status and marital status were predictive of heavier alcohol use among males. No association was observed between social support and alcohol use among older adults.

Conclusions: The results from this study underscore the complexity of alcohol use behavior among MAs. The strong association of acculturation and alcohol use among MA women suggests that traditional alcohol norms are altered during the acculturation process. Alcohol use among MA men is more common and heavy use was associated with social and economic factors rather than acculturation. The study findings may be used to inform health promotion and alcohol intervention programs for MA adults.