Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15. It recognizes and honors the diverse history and culture of the Latino and Hispanic communities that stem from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Central America and South America. The people of Spanish-speaking communities and of Latin America have a rich tapestry of cultures that make them unique. We celebrate this month by attending events with dances, music, artwork and food from the people in these communities.
As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, it is equally important to consider ways to support Latino and Hispanic communities today. Substance use disorder remains a significant challenge in the Hispanic and Latino communities. Issues like alcohol and opioid addiction need to be addressed. How is substance use viewed in Hispanic and Latino culture? How can people suffering from addiction issues get the help they need?
Understanding Substance Use Disorder in the Hispanic Community
Studies have noted trends regarding alcohol and the Hispanic community. About 9.5% of people in the Hispanic community will develop alcohol dependency at some point. This rate is lower than the 13.8% of people who are white and not Hispanic who develop alcohol dependency. Similarly, 7.1% of Hispanic Americans struggle with a substance use disorder, while that rate is 7.4% in the general population.
Regardless of the proportion of the community that struggles with addiction, each person deserves to get the help they need. Data from 2018 indicates that nearly all Hispanic and Latino youth, approximately 92%, who struggled with a substance use disorder did not receive care at a specialized facility.
What can contribute to the risk of a substance use disorder among the Hispanic and Latino communities, and why do people struggle to get help?
Risk Factors for Addiction
The following factors may lead to addiction in this community:
- Genetics: Genetics are a significant component of an individual’s risk of developing a substance use disorder. If people of Latin American or Hispanic origin have family members who struggle with addiction, they have a higher risk of substance misuse and addiction.
- Acculturation: Acculturation refers to assimilating into another typically dominant culture. Studies have shown that acculturation in Hispanic youth can play a role in the risk of developing substance use issues.
- Poverty: Poverty can significantly increase the risk of developing a substance use disorder and subsequent addiction. Addiction rates can be twice as high among those who are unemployed. Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that approximately 20% of the Latino community lives in poverty.
Obstacles to Treatment
Getting the necessary care is not always as simple as recognizing you need help. People in the Hispanic and Latino communities can face barriers to receiving addiction support, such as:
- Language barrier: Many people find they can only access care provided by English-speaking clinicians. While this may not be an issue for someone who is bilingual, it can be a significant obstacle for people who only speak Spanish.
- Financial resources: The cost of addiction recovery is a natural concern. People may be uninsured or underinsured, which is a significant impediment to receiving care. The Hispanic community has the highest rate of uninsured individuals compared to any other racial group in the country. Legal status can play a role in the lack of financial resources and add another barrier to seeking care.
- Stigma: Stigma is one of the major obstacles to receiving addiction recovery care for people across any race or ethnicity. People worry about what their family, friends and colleagues may think if they admit they need help. Even after people recognize they need help, there can be lingering concerns they may be judged for dealing with addiction. Just 20% of Latinos with a mental health issue bring up their concerns with a primary care doctor.
Addiction is a complicated disease that is rooted in biological and environmental factors. Everyone deserves to be able to ask for help from a trained health care provider with whom they can communicate without fear of being judged.
Mental Health in the Hispanic and Latino Communities
Addiction and mental health issues often go hand in hand, requiring a dual treatment approach. When looking for ways to address substance use disorder among those who are Hispanic or Latino, it is important to understand how members of these communities view mental health. For many Latinos, mental health can be a difficult subject to broach.
Mental health issues occur at approximately the same rate in these communities as in the general population. But the same obstacles Latinos and Hispanics face in receiving care for substance use disorders come into play when facing mental health concerns. Hispanic Heritage Month offers an opportunity to call attention to mental health and show people there is help available.
Organizations That Offer Support
A number of different organizations offer support specifically for the Hispanic and Latino communities. If you or a loved one needs help talking about substance use disorder or seeking help, you can turn to organizations such as:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): SAMHSA has a search function that can help people find health care providers who speak Spanish.
- National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI): NAMI offers bilingual resources, as well as insight into the unique needs of the Hispanic and Latino communities.
- Therapy for Latinx:Therapy for Latinx helps connect people in the Latino community with therapists. It also helps to connect people with resources like crisis hotlines and mental health screening tools.
- Mental Health America: The nonprofit Mental Health America has a page dedicated to understanding mental health issues in Latino and Hispanic communities, as well as many Spanish-language resources.
- National Alliance for Hispanic Health (NAHH): The NAHH focuses on science, culture and community and works to improve the quality of care and access to health care. Jane Delgado, PhD, was the first female president of the organization, and she has dedicated her career to improving health in the Hispanic and Latino communities.
Seeking Treatment With Gateway Foundation
As Hispanic Heritage Month approaches, we prepare to celebrate history and culture while also considering the unique needs of the members of the Hispanic and Latino communities struggling with substance use disorders.
When looking for a health care provider to help you or a loved one with substance use disorder and mental health, there are a few questions you can ask to help connect with the right person:
- Ask if your provider is bilingual.
- Ask if they have experience treating people in the Hispanic and Latino communities.
- Ask if they understand how your culture could affect your treatment plan.
At Gateway Foundation, we treat people with drug and alcohol use disorders. We understand the barriers to taking the first steps toward recovery, and we are here to help. We offer specialized, high-quality treatment that fits your needs. Our approach is designed to help you now and to build a foundation for long-term recovery. If you or someone you love needs help, contact us to get started.