Risk environments and substance use among Mexican female sex work on the U.S.–Mexico border

Kathryn M. Nowotny, Alice Cepeda, Tasha Perdue, Nalini Negi, Avelardo Valdez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


We use a risk environment framework to qualitatively examine pathways into substance use and abuse among Mexican female sex workers on the U.S.–Mexico border. Life history interviews and ethnographic observations were conducted with female sex workers to uncover how the border context shapes patterns of substance use. The findings illustrate that, for many women, initiation into sex work is contextualized within immigration, the global economy, and demands and desire for financial autonomy. Paradoxically, many find autonomy within sex work as they increase their ability to support their families and themselves. As women become more entrenched in sex work, however, they are put on a path toward substance abuse beginning with alcohol then cocaine and heroin. This identification of specific substance use pathways and trajectories has important implications for the development of prevention and intervention programs that can help curtail problematic drug use that can lead to negative health consequences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)528-542
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Drug Issues
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2017


  • Drug use
  • Female sex workers
  • HIV risk
  • Mexico

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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