Disentangling Contributions of Bar Attendance, Drinking, and Other Factors to Elevated Acute Alcohol Problems on the U.S.-Mexico Border

Britain A. Mills, Raul Caetano, Patrice A C Vaeth, Jennifer M. Reingle Gonzalez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Levels of drinking are unusually elevated among young adults on the U.S.-Mexico border, and this elevation can be largely explained by young border residents' unusually high frequency of bar attendance. However, this explanation complicates interpretation of high alcohol problem rates that have also been observed in this group. Because bar environments can lower the threshold for many types of problems, the extent to which elevated alcohol problems among young border residents can be attributed to drinking per se-versus this common drinking context-is not clear. 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). After developing structural models of acute alcohol problems, estimates were subjected to path decompositions to disentangle the common and distinct contributions of drinking and bar attendance to problem disparities on and off the border. Additionally, models were estimated under varying degrees of adjustment to gauge the sensitivity of the results to sociodemographic, social-cognitive, and environmental sources of confounding. Results: Consistent with previous findings for both drinking and other problem measures, acute alcohol problems were particularly elevated among young adults on the border. This elevation was entirely explained by a single common pathway involving bar attendance frequency and drinking. Bar attendance did not predict acute alcohol problems independently of drinking, and its effect was not moderated by border proximity or age. The common indirect effect and its component effects (of border youth on bar attendance, of bar attendance on drinking, and of drinking on problems) were surprisingly robust to adjustment for confounding in all parts of the model (e.g., fully adjusted indirect effect: b = 0.11, SE = 0.04, p < 0.01). Conclusions: Bar attendance and associated increases in drinking play a key, unique role in the high levels of acute alcohol problems among the border's young adult population that cannot be entirely explained by sociodemographic or social-cognitive characteristics of young border residents, by contextual effects of bars on problems, or by broader neighborhood factors. Bar attendance in particular may represent an early modifiable risk factor that can be targeted to reduce alcohol problem disparities in the region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2171-2178
Number of pages8
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2015


  • Alcohol Problems
  • Bars
  • Mexican Americans
  • Social Cognitions
  • U.S.-Mexico Border

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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