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Marijuana, Cocaine and Alcohol: Hispanic Youth More Likely to Abuse Drugs than Other Teens, Hispanic Adults Less Likely to Use Drugs than Other Adults

First Posted: Feb 06, 2014 12:47 PM EST
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Dimly lit basements with buddies crowded around television screens and bosky public parks where friends are congregated around peeling picnic tables are the imagined settings for teenagers who engage in drug use and abuse. But the reality is that teens participate in drug use any and everywhere -- and Latino teens are leading the trend.

Marijuana, ecstasy and cocaine use has become normalized behavior among Latino teenagers, as they are more likely than other ethnic groups to engage in drug use. More than half of Latino teens (54 percent) reported the use of an illicit drug, which is more than African American teens (45 percent) and white teens (43 percent).

By far, Marijuana is the drug that's indulged in more than others because it's seen as mild and non-addictive. Nearly half of Latino teens (47 percent) use marijuana, compared to 39 percent of African Americans and 36 percent of Caucasian teens. Drugs deemed more serious such as ecstasy and cocaine are experienced by one-in-eight (13 percent) Hispanic teens, more than Caucasian and African American teens. Hispanic teens also lead the underage drinking trend, being that 62 percent consume alcohol, and Caucasian teens are close behind with 59 percent of them drinking alcohol, compared to 50 percent of African American teens. 

Latino teens are also twice as likely to misuse or abuse prescription drugs than they were two years ago (30 percent in 2012 compared to 17 percent of 2007). Sixteen percent of Latino teens have mixed alcohol with prescription drugs, and one-in-ten have abused over-the-counter cough medicine, compared to 5 percent for African Americans and Caucasians.

Evidence shows that Latino teens tend to indulge in drug use more because they are exposed to substance abuse in their community, and are more likely to be offered drugs. More than 40 percent of Hispanic teens have been offered drugs at school, which is significantly higher than Caucasian (30 percent) and African-American teens (28 percent). Also, one-quarter of Hispanic teens witness drug use in their neighborhood.

Hispanic parents are more aware than other parents that teens that use drugs at a young age are more likely to have a substance abuse problem later in life, and 94 percent of Latino parents state that they would take action upon discovering that their child partook in drugs, which is more than parents of other races. However, one-in-five Hispanic parents believe that it's okay for their children to smoke marijuana, and more than one-in-four believed that it's safer to use pharmaceutical drugs rather than street drugs.

As Hispanics age, however, studies show that their use of drugs decreases. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicated in a 2010 National Survey that rates for alcohol use and illicit drug use were lower than the national average for adults (46.1 vs. 55.2 percent and 6.6 vs. 7.9 percent). Of course, this varied by subgroup: adults of Dominican origin were far less likely to use drugs than adults of Spanish origin (from Spain). However, binge alcohol use for Latinos was higher than the national average (26.3 vs. 24.5 percent).

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