Aug 05, 2015


The Impact of Culture on Substance Abuse and Addiction

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Most people assume that drug abusers lack willpower to quit or lack moral principles. That is not the case. Drug addiction is a complicated disease. Addiction is a chronic and often relapsing brain disease. It causes the user to compulsively seek and use the drug even though he or she will experience harmful and negative consequences by doing so. It requires more than just willpower and intention to quit and not return to abusing drugs or alcohol. Drugs change the brain causing compulsive drug abuse making it difficult for even willing abusers to quit. Science explains how the brain works in addiction and has made it easier for those of us who provide counseling or treatment to offer successful rehabilitation options that can lead to productive lives. Evidence-based treatment combines addiction treatment medications with behavioral therapy. This research based approach is tailored to each client’s abuse patterns and co-occurring medical, social, and psychiatric problems, and has shown sustained recovery in patients.

Are Hispanics More Likely to Use Drugs Than Other Groups?

As a whole, Hispanic Americans are not more likely to use drugs than other groups. However, Puerto Rican Americans and Mexican Americans show higher pervasiveness of illicit drug use which includes cocaine and marijuana. They also show higher prevalence of excessive alcohol consumption and dependence as well as drug rehabilitation treatment. There is a lower prevalence among Central Americans, Cuban Americans, and Caribbean Americans. Acculturation and culture of poverty issues are big factors for stressors for Hispanics. Levels of drug use varies depending on the acculturation level which comes with stressors that are predictors of drug abuse (Stevens & Smith, 2009).

Family Discord and Its Connection to Abusing Drugs

Hispanic young adults and adolescents identify family discord and disruption as an antecedent of using and abusing drugs. The family is the basis of Hispanic culture and it is important to gain insight into someone’s family when providing services to Hispanic clients. Economics play a big role in the way that Hispanic groups are disproportionate in numbers enrolled in pharmacological treatment versus psychological treatment for substance abuse. Legal status of individuals also influences treatment access. Hispanic women are less likely to use illicit drugs than Hispanic men. Sub cultural experiences may impact substance use. Level of urbanization can also be factors in lifetime prevalence and abuse (Stevens & Smith, 2009).

The Role of Cultural Competency in Prevention and Intervention With Hispanics

Culturally competent intervention and prevention with Hispanics is important. This includes sensitivity and understanding about the individual’s circumstances. Acculturation level, support systems, and other conditions are important factors to consider. Other important issues when addressing Hispanics includes trust, respect, dignity, action-oriented advice, and the role that supernatural forces play in their lives and belief system. Prevention programs must include characteristics such as strong families and inclusion of extended family and the effects of acculturation stressors (Stevens & Smith, 2009).

For more information and resources please visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at


Stevens, P., & Smith, R. L.(2009). Substance abuse counseling: Theory and practice (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

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Xiomara A. Sosa

Xiomara A. Sosa

Xiomara A. Sosa is Founder and Principal of XAS Consulting, LLC (XAS), a boutique hybrid private practice she founded in 2003 to integrate the role of mental health, physical health, and human services efforts in providing culturally competent services to the Hispanic, veteran and sexual minority (LGBTQQIA) communities and to first and second responders. Xiomara is a clinical mental health – forensic counselor, a nonprofit executive, a social change advocate, and a United States military veteran. She provides clinical mental health-forensic counseling; community relations; disaster mental health; healthcare advocacy; therapeutic life coaching; and service to the armed forces. Xiomara practices a progressive, innovative path to integrative health by combining mental healthcare, physical healthcare, and human services. As an integrative healthcare provider she works with individuals, couples and families of mixed ages and genders. She is bilingual (Spanish) and provides services in private consultation, by telephone or electronically. As a multicultural counselor her cultural competency is especially focused on working with the Hispanic, veteran, and sexual and gender minority (LGBTQQIA) communities. Full bio at

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