Strong Cultural and Family Ties May Decrease Substance Use in Latino Youth

Substance misuse among adolescents in general, and Latinos in particular, continues to be of grave concern for public health administrators throughout the United States. Latinos represent the fastest growing segment of the American population, and research suggests that Latino youths are more often referred to outpatient substance abuse treatment centers than their White and African-American peers. Because of this, it is imperative to identify what factors pose the greatest risk for alcohol and drug use among the Latino adolescent population. Additionally, insight into what measures help protect Latino teens from this behavior could help form interventions designed to address substance misuse.

Jason J. Burrow-Sanchez of the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Utah recently led a study that focused on the issues that contribute to and protect from substance misuse among Latino youths. He enrolled 35 Latino teens into a traditional cognitive behavioral substance abuse treatment (S-CBT) program or an ethnically accommodated form of the same treatment (A-CBT). He assessed feasibility, substance use, and retention at baseline, at the end of the 12-week programs, and 3 months posttreatment. Burrow-Sanchez found that all of the teens had similar results on viability measures, but specific factors influenced substance use at conclusion and follow-up.

Both groups of participants had reductions in substance use during treatment and at the conclusion, and moderate increases in use at follow-up. However, the participants in the A-CBT that had strong baseline cultural identities and close family ties had lower levels of substance use at follow-up than those in the S-CBT group. These results suggest that certain cultural aspects may provide protective mechanisms for Latino youths at risk for substance misuse. Burrows-Sanchez hopes the findings of this study motivate future exploration into this dynamic. He added, “Further research in this area would help researchers and clinicians determine when a cultural accommodation or adaption is most likely to improve treatment outcomes.”

Burrow-Sanchez, J. J., Wrona, M. (2012). Comparing culturally accommodated versus standard group CBT for Latino adolescents with substance use disorders: A pilot study. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029439

Related articles:
Helping Children Maintain Balance and Avoid Addiction
Importance of Coping Skills, Part 2: Building Resilience
How to Teach Children Emotional Intelligence

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  • Martinez

    August 22nd, 2012 at 4:06 PM

    There is such presssure within the Hispanic community where I grew up to break the rules, be a non conformist, ad to use drugs is like a rite of passage for most of us. We were so compelled to impress our friends that for most of us it sisn’t mean that much to measure up to what our families wanted for us. A lot of us got heavily involved in the drug world, and most of us hae done some time for it. I get sad every now and then thinking about how easy it would be to slip back into that life, but how much I want to change is even greater than that. To change this culture there needs to be some serious emphasis placed on the fact that this could lead to jail time or worse. Listen to your family not the street family filling you with lies.

  • Simon T. Peterson

    August 22nd, 2012 at 6:00 PM

    Hi Martinez, although I’m not Latino, I used to live in a predominantly Latino neighborhood for about 2 years and can relate to what you are saying. It was disappointing to see many good kids from my school getting involved with wrong groups of people because they offered them the basic human needs of security and family. These kids would find themselves trapped and would quickly succumb to peer pressure. Intelligent kids with a lot of potential would resort to drug use or worse because of this cycle. Years later, I found out that many of these kids were serving sentences for drug related charges. What these kids really need is a place they can go to feel safe and loved, the kids that don’t have this are the ones that wind up in trouble.

  • Martinez

    August 23rd, 2012 at 4:01 AM

    Thanks Simon, I think that you really have your finger on the pulse of the Latino experience that I have known all my life. Families are quite loving and caring but in many urban areas like where I am most familiar with, the draw of the streets is tough to avoid.

  • Holden

    August 23rd, 2012 at 3:03 PM

    May, should, might. . . all of these are just ambigupus words for stating that really, sometimes we don’t know what will make a difference and what won’t.
    Remember that each person is individual with his own issues and problems. What may drive one person to drink and use drugs could be something that is insanely different for the next. Theredore the interventions that we try have to remain individual too!
    Yes, I agree that getting the families involved could make a big difference to some teens, but for others that could be the one thing that drives them to seek an escape. So I think that in the end you have to be careful when we try to tidy this up into one little box that fits all, because with any drug and alcohola abuse cases, it’s never quite that easy.

  • Dwayne

    August 23rd, 2012 at 8:59 PM

    Latino or not,family ties can help you get away from substance abuse.I have seen this happen to quite a few people when their families regroup and resolved to help the individual in his fight against substance misuse.

    What family ties do is basically provide a non judgmental environment where the people around you love you irrespective of what you have been doing,are genuinely concerned about your well being,and it gives an opportunity for the individual to be involved in different activities that can certainly keep them away from the ones related to the substance and also peers who are into the same.

  • L.Watson

    August 24th, 2012 at 12:29 AM

    The problem with most youngsters who do get Into drugs as far as I know, Majority of them come from unstable family environments.Young adults need a conductive environment to prevent substance abuse.So such a family environment can push them towards substance abuse.

    But I do not see how someone who has already crossed over to substance abuse can be brought bak through family if the family environment is not favorable in the first place!

  • jess mac

    August 24th, 2012 at 4:05 AM

    No matter who you are, family pretty much, at least to a point, is going to mean a lot to most people, especially when you are young. So encouraging the development of healthy families should not be limited to specific cultural groups. This is something that should be fostered and encouraged in each and every segment of the population. When we are able to keep our families strong, then as a result we are making our society even stronger.

  • stressmom

    August 24th, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    The key to success in cases like this has to be more family and not simply individual therapy. And how are we going to do that? I think that a big part of this is going to boil down to getting in these communities where you see a lot of Latino families and creating programs there that promote a healthy family and lifestyle. The local and state governments would be wise to begin funneling some money into worthy causes like this because the last thing that any of us need is an exploding population with this many drug issues as the ones that we are currently facing!

  • Mark C

    August 25th, 2012 at 10:52 AM

    Have there been any successful programs typing family and drug prevention together that originated within the church? I know that this can often be a hub of any community, so that would be a logical place to me where you may find tons of support as well as families who are genuinely interested in creating more peace in their community. Also I know that we all sit around and talk about the many ways that teachers are overworked, and I agree that they are, but schools are the next logical place to get the word out that their families care and that you are all going to work together to prevent this drug blight from creeping into your town. These are just two things that I think could make a very strong impact in a way that could reach a lot of people and make a difference quickly.

  • logan

    August 27th, 2012 at 4:17 AM

    have to make sure that the families are healthy themselves before encouraging further involvement with them

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