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Week of September 30, 2013

Latinos with disabilities rely on cultural ties to avoid substance abuse


People with physical disabilities often turn to alcohol and drugs to cope with their condition, but many disabled Latinos rely heavily on cultural ties with family and friends to help them steer clear of substance abuse, University of Michigan researchers say.

Unlike previous research that only looked at negative factors, a new U-M study indicates that identifying as Latino and being associated with Latino cultural values might shape intrapersonal risk and protection factors, said David Córdova, an assistant professor of social work.

“Understanding intrapersonal processes is essential to improving the health and mental health of this population,” said Córdova, the study’s lead author.

Researchers used data from five Los Angeles community organizations serving Latinos and persons with disabilities who reported alcohol and drug use within the past year. Respondents were between the ages of 18 and 35.

To identify intrapersonal risk factors, respondents described and photographed their experiences as a Latino with a disability as it related to substance use. Four themes emerged in the participants’ reflections: experiencing pain and sadness; trying to escape and forget about the disability; feeling inferior to others; and wishing they could be saved.

Córdova and colleagues found that, in general, if disabled Latinos feel discriminated against or excluded socially, their experiences as a disabled person becomes more pronounced.

The study’s authors include Ruben Parra-Cardona, Adrian Blow, Deborah Johnson and Hiram Fitzgerald of Michigan State University and Guillermo Prado of the University of Miami.

The findings appear in the Journal of Social Work Practice in Addictions.

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