Acculturation Versus Cultural Retention: The Interactive Impact of Acculturation and Co-ethnic Ties on Substance Use Among Chinese Students in the United States

J Immigr Minor Health. 2018 Jun;20(3):546-560. doi: 10.1007/s10903-017-0598-0.


Acculturation is often found to increase substance use among immigrants in the U.S., but such effect may depend on how immigrants are attached to their co-ethnic community. Meanwhile, the high socioeconomic status of some new immigrant groups also challenges the classical assumption that ties to co-ethnic community are associated with deviance. With a sample (n = 960) collected from a population of Chinese students in a large public university in the U.S., we tested how do the interplays between acculturation and co-ethnic ties affect substance use. This study establishes that: (1) different dimensions of acculturation have opposite effects on substance use; (2) acculturative stress does not explain the association between acculturation and substance use; (3) acculturation increases the likelihood of substance use only when one has weak attachment to their co-ethnic community. The findings are consistent for three dependent variables: smoking, drinking, and drunkenness, and for the different constructs of acculturation and co-ethnic ties. Ties to co-ethnic community may provide important social support for immigrants, while acculturation may alleviate the insular subculture that promotes at-risk behaviors. We encourage policy makers to consider the cooperative nature of acculturation and cultural retention for the improvement of health among this growing population.

Keywords: Acculturation; Acculturative stress; Chinese immigrant; Co-ethnic community; Drinking; Smoking.

MeSH terms

  • Acculturation*
  • Adolescent
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • China / ethnology
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Midwestern United States / epidemiology
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Stress, Psychological / ethnology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / ethnology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult