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Addiction and Latinos: An Expert’s Opinion

Seeing addiction in her own family spurred Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanati to research addiction among women and ethnic minorities, particularly Latinos, in her professional life.

Q. 


What explains the gap, as AARP Segunda Juventud’s study showed, between awareness of addiction as a problem and the willingness to address the problem?

A.

To move from awareness to treatment in these kinds of addictions, the individual has to show a desire to change. It is consistent and persistent desire to change that will move them to different levels of readiness. Something has to click, and that’s why a policy or a community norm change or a voluntary business approach is so important. In addictions, one often faces situations that are beyond the individual’s control. Family members often find themselves at a loss as to what to do. In these cases, new government or voluntary policies or business approaches could help.

For instance, if people are drinking too much, laws in some states say bartenders have a responsibility to not serve them another drink. With gambling, we’re a bit away from the massive education campaigns and polices that are needed to bring about this kind of legal or voluntary policy change. Working together with the Native American tribal leaders who own gambling establishments is going to be a major key to this. When it comes to secondhand smoke exposure and voluntary tobacco policies, for example, we need to be respectful of American Indian tribal sovereignty. The American Indian community has suffered many abuses itself for years. Now they’re making a lot of money through gambling establishments, many where smoking is still allowed. They don’t want to give up potential revenues despite the addiction problems it may cause or perpetuate. So the shift here has to be at a voluntary policy level or a business approach through which the tribes see it is in their financial interest to change. This takes it beyond just an issue of caring for the well-being of their workers and patrons.

Q.

How do you see addiction treatment strategies evolving?

 

A.

Treatment needs to be a comprehensive approach that includes communities, individuals, and the family. And it also has to come from the grassroots level. Mothers Against Drunk Driving was very successful because it didn’t only say “Don’t drink and drive.” It also provided alternatives as to what to do, such as “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” When we begin to be our “brother’s keeper,” we probably have a much better chance at success, because we begin to do things because we really care about each other. Many of these addictions are a cry for help at a deep existential level. As a society, we need to listen.

For the longest time, we’ve been focusing on the psychological conditions behind addiction. We need a more comprehensive approach where you’re treating the individual psychologically, physically, and spiritually, as well as the family and the community the individual comes from. Oftentimes we don’t have the support systems around us that are nurturing and caring for us as a society. The treatment and recovery movement is very strong and has helped a lot of people. But it needs resources and support so these kinds of treatment programs can work better and be accessible to more people and their families in need.

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