Referencing Culture in Treatment Key to Helping Latinos

Referencing Culture in Treatment Key to Helping LatinosCulturally adapted mental health treatments are treatment approaches customized to reflect the values, traditions and/or languages specific to various underrepresented or minority racial/ethnic groups. According to the results of a study published in late 2013 in the Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse, use of a culturally adapted form of a treatment called motivational interviewing can help addiction specialists improve outcomes for Hispanic or Latino Americans who drink excessive amounts of alcohol.

The Basics

Hispanic/Latino Americans are a large, diverse cultural group united primarily by roots in countries originally colonized by Spain and use of the Spanish language for everyday or occasional communications. Despite common preconceptions in much of the U.S., people with Hispanic/Latino heritage do not come from a single racial background or occupy a particular rung on the socioeconomic ladder. However, shared cultural values unite large segments of the Hispanic/Latino population. Common examples of these values include a strong reliance on social ties within single and extended families, an emphasis on religion-based moral conduct, a belief in the social protection of children and a high regard for literacy.

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) uses an annual project called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health to estimate the level of involvement that Hispanic/Latino Americans have in regular excessive alcohol consumption and a more sporadic form of heavy drinking called binge drinking, which leads to rapid intoxication in participants. Figures gathered from the last available survey year (2012) indicate that roughly 5.1 percent of all Hispanic/Latinos age 12 or older drink heavily in any given month. In addition, approximately 23.2 percent of all Hispanic/Latinos in this age range binge drink on a monthly basis. People who habitually consume large amounts of alcohol or participate in binge drinking significantly increase their chances of developing a diagnosable case of alcohol use disorder (alcoholism or alcohol abuse).

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing is a form of behavioral intervention designed to help a person overcome internal barriers to participation in a treatment program and increase the drive to change a damaging lifestyle. Practitioners of this technique believe that all people have a built-in desire to stop harming themselves and seek improvement when given the opportunity. They use an empathetic approach to bond with their clients/patients, help those clients/patients clarify their reasons for getting better and provide ongoing support for those individuals in the process of changing. Research-based evidence compiled by SAMHSA verifies the effectiveness of motivational interviewing for a range of substance-related conditions, even when affected individuals also have other serious, co-existing mental health issues.

Usefulness of a Culturally Adapted Approach

In the study published in the Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse, researchers from Brown University, Northeastern University, the University of Southern California and the University of Texas at Dallas used an examination of 57 adults to assess the potential effectiveness of a culturally adapted form of motivational interviewing as a treatment for Hispanics/Latinos who habitually drink excessive amounts of alcohol. The approach to motivational interviewing used during the study specifically took into account the differences in language and cultural orientation that are known to potentially interfere with the successful delivery of substance-related treatments to non-white populations in the U.S.

The researchers compared the rate of alcohol consumption among the participants at the beginning of the study to the rate of consumption two months after the completion of a course of culturally adapted motivational interviewing. They also compared the initial rate of alcohol consumption to the rate of consumption half a year after the participants completed treatment. At the two-month mark, those individuals who underwent motivational interviewing experienced significant decreases in their level of monthly heavy drinking, as well as significant decreases in their level of exposure to alcohol-related harm. At the six-month mark, the downward trends in both heavy drinking and alcohol-related harm were even more obvious.

Significance and Considerations

The authors of the study published in the Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse concluded that motivational interviewing specifically geared toward the Hispanic/Latino community does appear to have clear value as a method for curbing involvement in heavy alcohol consumption within that community. However, they view their findings as preliminary and urge the undertaking of further research efforts in this area. If the authors’ conclusions are confirmed, doctors and public health officials may have an important new tool for combating heavy drinking and preventing the onset of alcohol use disorder.

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