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Substance use and behaviour disorders in Puerto Rican youth: a migrant family study
  1. K R Merikangas1,
  2. K P Conway2,
  3. J Swendsen3,
  4. V Febo4,
  5. L Dierker5,
  6. W Brunetto6,
  7. M Stolar6,
  8. G Canino4
  1. 1
    Intramural Research Programme, National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA
  2. 2
    Division of Epidemiology, Services, and Prevention Research, National Institute of Drug Abuse, Bethesda, Maryland, USA
  3. 3
    National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS UMR 5231), Bordeaux, France
  4. 4
    University of San Juan, San Juan, Puerto Rico
  5. 5
    Department of Psychology, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, USA
  6. 6
    Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
  1. Dr J Swendsen, CNRS 5231, 146 rue Léo Saignant, Bordeaux 33076 France; Joel.Swendsen{at}


Background: Hispanics in the USA have higher rates of substance use disorders than similar ethnic groups residing in Latin American nations, and recent evidence suggests an increase in substance use among US Hispanic youth. This investigation examines the familial and societal correlates of this increase by comparing Puerto Rican families residing in the mainland USA and Puerto Rico.

Methods: Using migrant and controlled family study methods, 279 probands in San Juan and 236 probands in New Haven were recruited from treatment clinics and the general community to compose four diagnostic groups: drug abuse/dependence; alcohol abuse/dependence; psychiatric controls; unaffected controls. 806 biological offspring aged 12–17 were then directly interviewed.

Results: Total rates for alcohol use were greater among San Juan Youth than their migrant counterparts. By contrast, US migrant adolescents were more likely to use cannabis. A strong association was observed between parental and child substance use at both sites, particularly for boys, and offspring of probands with drug use disorders were at greatest risk for substance use and related disorders. Familial aggregation patterns did not vary substantially by site.

Conclusions: Despite societal influences on the magnitude and patterns of substance use in migrant youth, the consistent influence of parental disorders across sites reveals that the cross-generational transmission of substance use disorders in prior studies extends to Hispanic families and is an important factor to consider in the development of prevention strategies.

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  • Competing interests: None declared.

  • Funding: This work was supported in part by grants AA07080, DA09055, MH36197, and MH0049 (KRM) from the National Institutes of Health and the Intramural Research Program at the National Institute of Mental Health.

  • Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the authors and should not be construed necessarily to represent the views of any of the sponsoring agencies, or the US government. This work was carried out at the Yale University School of Medicine and the University of Puerto Rico Behavioral Sciences Research Institute, and was completed before Dr Conway worked at the National Institutes of Health.

  • Ethics approval: Ethics committee approval from Yale University School of Medicine, USA.