Substance Use Struggles Among Hispanic Youth

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — September 7, 2021 — 4 min read
We know that drug and alcohol use among teens can be dangerous. At best, it slows brain development. At worst, it can lead to death. However, we don’t often discuss how the consequences of substance use differ for people of color.

Alianza reported these statistics among local Hispanic high school youth:
  • 40.2 percent had their first sip of alcohol before age 13
  • 48.1 percent have used marijuana in their lifetime
  • 4.1 percent have used prescription drugs not prescribed to them in the past 30 days

While these statistics are similar to the general population, the causes and effects are different for Hispanic youth. They are 28 percent more likely to be detained or committed in juvenile facilities than their white peers. Those who are not U.S. citizens may also be at the risk of deportation if caught using substances illegally.

Why Is This Important?

Hispanic Americans are more likely to need substance abuse treatment. However, a 2018 study showed that nearly 90 percent of Hispanics with substance use disorder (SUD) did not receive treatment. Compared with the general U.S. population, Hispanics have:
  • Poorer outcomes in substance abuse treatment
  • Reduced access to rehab services
  • Lower levels of participation in recovery activities
  • Higher dropout rates
 With substance use rates among Hispanic youth rising, it’s important we find specific solutions.

Causes of Substance Use Among Hispanic Youth

Acculturation is a major factor. It refers to changing your behavior to match your new environment. Acculturation is common among immigrants. They tend to lose their identity after immigrating. It is even more common among Hispanic youth. They want to feel accepted by their new peers. They may start using substances out of peer pressure or to cope with the stress.

Issues Identified by Immigrants

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America lists some other challenges immigrants often face:
  • Religious or ethnic persecution
  • Lack of job opportunities because of citizenship status
  • Lack of travel freedom because of citizenship status
  • Lack of legal protection because of citizenship status
  • Fear of deportation
  • Difficulty or inability to see friends and family back home
  • Trauma from being forced to leave their home country. This could be a result of fleeing violence, human trafficking, etc.
These challenges can lead to mental health issues and SUD. Immigrants can often become depressed after coming to America. The discrimination that they face can be hard to cope with. Some may turn to substances for relief.

How Can This Be Prevented?

It's important for Hispanic Americans to remain close to their culture. Acculturated Hispanics are 13 times more likely to use illegal drugs. Those who stick to their culture’s values are much less likely to partake. Some ways they can prevent excessive acculturation are:
  • Visiting one’s birth country regularly
  • Staying in frequent touch with extended family
  • Maintaining Hispanic values

Fighting Stigma

Substance abuse is often viewed as a private issue for Hispanics. They think it should be resolved within the family instead of a rehab program. However, rising rates of substance use among Hispanic youth have increased the need for structured recovery programs. The stigma around treatment facilities needs to be eliminated. They are essential for combating a SUD.

Increase Specialized Treatment Options

To improve their outcomes, specialized treatment options need to be created. Key factors for a Hispanic focused treatment program include:

Offering bilingual recovery activities:
  • Individual and group therapy sessions
  • Support groups
  • 12-Step meetings for Spanish speakers
Acknowledging Hispanic cultural values:
  • Family
  • Spirituality
  • Personal relationships
  • Desire for conflict resolution
Understanding traditional family structures and gender roles

Moving forward

It’s important to realize the differences in Hispanic culture. This provides a better understanding of SUD causes and treatment options. Acceptance of these differences is also important. That will help prevent younger Hispanic generations from straying.


Here are some resources that may be helpful:
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