What do teen immigrants say about drug addiction?

In brief

Stigma towards drug addiction is a research field largely untouched. Even fewer studies look at what stigmas adolescents hold towards drug addiction. A teenager’s developmental stage, their personal experiences, and peer pressure make this period an unpredictable one. Add immigration experiences to those factors, and teenagers’ perceptions and attitudes will vary even more. How do teens from different immigration backgrounds stigmatize drug addiction?

Ontario researchers analyzed information gathered from students who participated in the 2005 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey. Students were 12 to 19 years old and were attending public schools in Ontario (grades 7-12). The students were asked how they felt about drug addiction and people addicted to drugs, and were asked about their own experience with drugs.

EENet is pleased to feature a Research Snapshot on the article, “Adolescent immigrant generation and stigmatizing attitudes toward drug addiction,” by Hayley A. Hamilton, Robert E. Mann, and Samuel Noh. The article appeared in the journal Addiction Research and Theory, vol. 19, no. 4.

Research Snapshots are brief, clear language summaries of research articles, presented in a user-friendly format.

Read it below or download the PDF.

What you need to know

Adolescents from different immigration generations (first-, second-, third-generation) stigmatize drug addiction differently. However, their attitudes towards drug addiction are shaped more by their own use of drugs or their friends’ use of drugs than by their immigration status.

What is this research about?

Stigma towards drug addiction is a research field largely untouched. Even fewer studies look at what stigmas adolescents hold towards drug addiction. A teenager’s developmental stage, their personal experiences, and peer pressure make this period an unpredictable one. Add immigration experiences to those factors, and teenagers’ perceptions and attitudes will vary even more. How do teens from different immigration backgrounds stigmatize drug addiction?

What did the researchers do?

Ontario researchers analyzed information gathered from 4078 students who participated in the 2005 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey. Students were 12-19 years old attending public schools in Ontario (grades 7-12). The students were asked how they felt about drug addiction and people addicted to drugs, and were asked about their own experience with drugs. Students were grouped according to immigration status:

  • first-generation youth are foreign-born
  • second-generation youth are Canadian-born with at least one parent who is foreign-born
  • third-generation youth are Canadian-born with Canadian-born parents

What did the researchers find?

The researchers found that there are some differences between the ways the groups perceive drug addiction. For example, first- and second-generation youth hold greater stigmas against drug addiction than third-generation youth. However, this difference can be explained by a teen’s experience with drugs.

Third-generation students are more likely to use drugs or have friends who use drugs than first- or second-generation youth. In fact, the major influencer on any teen’s attitude towards drug addiction seems to be their personal experience with drugs or with friends who use drugs. Still, this doesn’t fully explain the difference between stigmas held by second-generation and by third-generation youth.

How can you use this research?

This study looks at what stigmas teens have against drug addiction and what factors lead to these attitudes. Educators may be interested in these findings because most drug prevention programs make use of stigmas and direct their anti-drug messages at young teens.

The researchers point out that stigma can be both a good and bad thing. On the one hand, stigma can prevent adolescents from engaging with drugs. On the other hand, youth who are addicted to drugs may be more hesitant to seek help and might feel more stress because of this stigma. Future studies can examine how to shape stigma in order to prevent drug use while also encouraging young people to seek help.

About the researchers

Hayley A. Hamilton is a research scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, Ontario and an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario. 

hayley_hamilton [at] camh [dot] net
Robert E. Mann is a senior scientist at CAMH and an associate professor with the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario.
Samuel Noh is a senior scientist at CAMH and currently holds an Endowed Professorship in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario. 

This Research Snapshot is based on their article “Adolescent immigrant generation and stigmatizing attitudes toward drug addiction,” which was published in Addiction Research and Theory, vol. 19, no. 4 (2011): 344-51.

Keywords

Drug addiction, drug use, stigma, adolescents, immigrants

This Research Snapshot is based on an article that has been critically appraised for quality and susceptibility to bias.

Evidence Exchange Network (EENet) has partnered with the Knowledge Mobilization Unit at York University to produce Research Snapshots in the field of mental health and addictions in Ontario.

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