Cultural Stress and Substance Use Risk among Venezuelan Migrant Youth in the United States

Subst Use Misuse. 2020;55(13):2175-2183. doi: 10.1080/10826084.2020.1795684. Epub 2020 Jul 24.


Since 2015, more than four million Venezuelans have fled their once prosperous nation, prompting an ever-intensifying refugee crisis. Recent research with Venezuelan parents suggests that many are exposed to elevated migration-related stress, experience behavioral health problems, and express profound concern for their children's post-migration wellbeing. We examine the relationships between stress, family functioning, and substance use risk with a cultural stress theoretical lens. Methods: Survey data were collected between November 2018 and June 2019 from 402 recently-arrived Venezuelan immigrant youth ages 10-17. Outcomes include perceived discrimination, negative context of reception, family support/communication, and substance use intentions and normative beliefs. Structural equation modeling was used to examine the relationships between variables. Results: Structural equation modeling results indicated that negative context of reception was associated with permissive substance use norms (via family communication; B = 0.070, p < .01) and intentions to use (via family support; B = 0.051, p < .01). Discrimination was not mediated by family functioning, rather it exerted a direct effect on substance use norms (β = 0.20, p < .01) and intentions (β = 0.33, p < .001). Discussion: We see clear evidence that negative context of reception and discrimination are related to substance use risk, both directly (in the case of discrimination) and indirectly (in the case of negative context of reception). Given the manifold stressors faced by Venezuelan immigrants both prior to migration and in the process of resettling in the US, it is critical that practitioners and policymakers support this rapidly-growing population.

Keywords: Immigrants; Venezuela; adolescents; asylum seekers; discrimination; substance use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Emigrants and Immigrants*
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Humans
  • Parents
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Transients and Migrants*
  • United States / epidemiology