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Conversation With a Recovering Addict

While addiction strikes people of all ethnicities, Hispanics face unique challenges, according to this alcoholic who is recovering in Alcoholics Anonymous.

En español | Lencho, 36, who struggled with alcohol and drug addiction since he was a teenager, has been sober for five years since seeking help from Alcoholics Anonymous. AARP Segunda Juventud recently talked with him about his descent into addiction and the challenges he and other Latinos face when seeking recovery. (To respect AA’s principle of anonymity, we use only his first name.)


When did you start using alcohol?


I started drinking when I was 13 or 14. My father and my uncles, they were drinkers. Everybody was drinking around me. It looked like it was something fun. I thought, “When am I going to start drinking so I can be a man, so I can fit in with all these people?” I didn’t know all the suffering I would go through, not knowing at that time that I was a sick person.


How did your addiction develop?


It became a problem for me in the years when I was 17 to 20. At first I drank on Saturday and Sunday. I never remember a weekend without alcohol. Then it got worse. I started drinking on Fridays, then on Thursdays, then I couldn’t go to work. I got fired from a lot of jobs. I started lying to people. I would call in sick, or I would have my girlfriend or my mom call in sick for me. We call it love, but really it’s co-dependence. They’ll do the things you tell them.


Then it escalated to where I didn’t want to get drunk and I started using drugs. It’s a bad game to play. I started bottoming out when I started getting DUIs. The first one was when I was 19. Every time I was drinking, I was driving. I’d say I drove better when I was drunk. I didn’t want to show anybody my weakness by admitting I was drunk. I got sent to prison in 1998 and served 34 months for eight DUIs.


When did you realize that you needed help for your addiction?


I found an Alcoholics Anonymous book on a bunk bed in prison. I found something in it that told my story. When I read that book, it was a feeling of, “Here’s the door I was looking for. There are other people out there like me.” I kept reading it and reading it, and finally the words started making sense. I started working the AA program the last year I was in prison. I accepted that I had a problem, and that I needed help.


What role does the Hispanic culture play in dealing with addiction?


I’m from Mexico, and I come from a big Mexican family. We didn’t know that it was addiction. I’ve told my dad, “I think you need help.” That’s like telling him he’s not a man. You always want to be better than anybody else when you’re drinking. I have a brother who is struggling with addiction, too. He’s 21, and he doesn’t think he has a problem because he has only one DUI. I go to AA in English and I go to Spanish meetings, too. Most of the Hispanic people, they don’t want to read the books. They just learn from what the next guy says. A lot of people tell me I make a lot of difference by talking in the meetings.


What's your life like now?


I’ve been five years sober and I feel good. I have a whole new family and a new baby. I get along with my ex-wife and my kids. I turned my life around. When I’m working the program more, I feel better around everybody. At big family get-togethers everybody drinks, but I don’t have to. I can still be funny without drinking, and I don’t have to judge anybody for drinking.


What advice do you have for people who may think they have an addiction?


I’ve had a lot of experiences where a family member or a friend calls me to tell me about someone who needs help. The people that have the problem are the ones who need to call and ask for help. They have to make the choice. In AA, we’re regular people just like them. We’re people who just decided not to drink today. 

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