Cross-border policy effects on alcohol outcomes: Drinking without thinking on the u.s.-Mexico border?

Britain A. Mills, Raul Caetano, Patrice Vaeth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Background: Rates of alcohol-related outcomes are sensitive to policy differences in politically distinct, adjacent territories. Factors that shape these cross-border effects, particularly when the policy differences are longstanding, remain poorly understood. We compared the ability of 2 classes of variables with theoretical relevance to the U.S.-Mexico border context-bar attendance and alcohol-related social-cognitive variables-to explain elevated drinking on the U.S. side of the border relative to other areas of the United States. Methods: Data were collected from multistage cluster samples of adult Mexican Americans on and off the U.S.-Mexico border (current drinker N = 1,351). Structural equation models were used to test drinking context (frequency of bar attendance) and 6 different social-cognitive variables (including alcohol-related attitudes, norms, motives, and beliefs) as mediators of border effects on a composite drinking index. Results: The border effect on drinking varied by age (with younger adults showing a stronger effect), consistent with previous findings and known risk factors in the region. Contrary to theoretical expectations, 6 different social-cognitive variables-despite relating strongly with drinking-were comparable in border and nonborder areas (within and across age) and played no role in elevated drinking on the border. Conversely, elevated drinking among border youth was mediated by bar attendance. This mediated moderation effect held after adjusting for potential sociodemographic and neighborhood-level confounders. Conclusions: Increased drinking among U.S.-Mexico border youth is explained by patterns of bar attendance, but not by more permissive alcohol-related social-cognitive variables in border areas: Border youth attend bars and drink more than their nonborder counterparts, despite having comparable alcohol-related beliefs, attitudes, norms, and motives for use. Alcohol's heightened availability and visibility on both sides of the border may create opportunities for border youth to drink that otherwise would not be considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2809-2815
Number of pages7
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014


  • Bars
  • Mexican americans
  • Social cognitions
  • U.S.-Mexico border

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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