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J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2014 Nov;75(6):958-67.

Substance use disorders among first- and second- generation immigrant adults in the United States: evidence of an immigrant paradox?

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School of Social Work, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.
School of Social Work, College for Public Health and Social Justice, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri.
School of Social Work, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
School of Social Work, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.



A growing number of studies have examined the "immigrant paradox" with respect to the use of licit and illicit substances in the United States. However, there remains a need for a comprehensive examination of the multigenerational and global links between immigration and substance use disorders among adults in the United States.


The present study, using data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, aimed to address these gaps by comparing the prevalence of substance use disorders of first-generation (n = 3,338) and second-generation (n = 2,515) immigrants with native-born American adults (n = 15,733) in the United States. We also examined the prevalence of substance use disorders among first-generation emigrants from Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America in contrast to second-generation and native-born Americans.


The prevalence of substance use disorders was highest among native-born Americans, slightly lower among second-generation immigrants, and markedly lower among first-generation immigrants. Adjusted risk ratios were largest among individuals who immigrated during adolescence (ages 12-17 years) and adulthood (age 18 years or older). Results were consistent among emigrants from major world regions.


Consistent with a broad body of literature examining the links between the immigrant paradox and health outcomes, results suggest that nativity and age at arrival are significant factors related to substance use disorders among first- and second-generation immigrants in the United States.

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