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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.

En español | What treatment works best for Hispanic addicts—and what doesn’t work? AARP Segunda Juventud asked Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanati, associate professor in preventive medicine at the Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, who focuses her research on tobacco use and health issues among women and ethnic minorities, particularly in the Latino community.

Baezconde-Garbanati serves as chair of the National Latino Tobacco Control Network, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is the director of Unidos por las Salud en Casinos, funded by the California Department of Health Services.

Q. 

How did you become interested in this field of study?

A.

Part of what attracted to me to this area was seeing tobacco and alcohol addiction in my own family. Neither one of my parents was addiction-oriented, but I had close relatives who were. I wanted to study it, rather than be a part of it.

Q.

What approaches to prevention and treatment work best for Latinos?

A. 

For the Latino community, what works really comes down to messages based on the family unit. Our culture is oriented toward a responsibility toward children and family. Some people may not do certain things for themselves, but they may do it if it will help their children, their grandchildren, or other family members. This is a different approach from what seems to work in the general community, where the messages that resonate best are about individual responsibility and self-help. The family-oriented messages are at the core of responsiveness to messages concerning prevention in the Latino community and other collective societies.

For example, in tobacco prevention we were able to let young people see how the messaging of the industry was affecting their younger siblings. The young people weren’t upset that they were being targeted themselves, but they were angry that their siblings were being targeted.

One key factor we need to realize is that whether we’re talking about alcohol, drugs, tobacco, or gambling, whatever the reasons are that led you to the addiction, they are usually part of other issues that are going on in a person’s life. Many times in addiction, denial is a major factor. People with addictions develop certain tolerance levels. Whether it’s alcohol or drugs or gambling, that tolerance level keeps getting higher and higher. It can lead to a progression. However, people in denial think they can quit at any time and that they are not really addicted. That’s why some self-help groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous, start with people saying, “Hi, I’m an alcoholic.” People need to recognize that they have a problem. That’s usually the first step in healing.

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