Experts Urge Study of Latino Drinking Patterns

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Alcohol abuse among young Latinas is rising, and they could be on their way to developing the same kinds of serious alcohol-related problems facing Latino men, experts told an audience at Cal State Northridge on Friday.

During a two-day symposium that ended Friday, researchers, health experts and others said cultural attitudes and environmental factors affect drinking among Latinos. But they said not enough public funding is being provided for research on alcohol abuse among Latinos.

The aim of the symposium, which was organized by the university, the Latino Coalition on Alcohol Issues of the San Fernando Valley and other groups, was to focus more attention on what researchers say is a growing problem among Latinos.

"Alcoholism is a real problem and we have not adequately addressed it as a community," said Dr. Juana Mora, a research analyst with the Los Angeles County Office of Alcohol Programs. "We also do not have enough Latinos making decisions about what kinds of research and what policies are being developed to deal with this problem."

The speakers also pointed out that few substance-abuse programs specifically target the Latino community.

Several experts said there is little data to document the extent of alcohol abuse in the Latino community, but said studies indicate the problem is getting worse.

For example, a study conducted in 1985-86 by Jean Gilbert, a scholar in Hispanic studies at UCLA, showed that U.S.-born Latinas, compared with immigrant Latinas living in the Los Angeles area, were 10 times as likely to call themselves "high-frequency" drinkers.

The study, in which 406 men and women were polled, showed that while only 2% of the immigrant Latinas said they drank alcohol "at least weekly, but never more than five drinks at one time," 20% of the U.S.-born Latinas placed themselves in that category.

Also, while 59% of the immigrant Latinas considered themselves abstainers, only 32% of the U.S.-born Latinas said the same.

"Women who are Mexican-born tend to maintain a certain set of standards and attitudes," Gilbert said. "Their daughters are growing up in an atmosphere of more permissiveness that is more favorable to alcohol consumption. I have a feeling it has to do with access (to alcohol), and with socialization."

Still, researchers said, the most troubling problems affect Latino men.

"Latino men in particular drink more frequently and in higher quantities than whites or blacks," Mora said. "We also have more health and family problems related to alcohol abuse.

"But we don't really know why," she said.

One problem that several of the panelists and even those in the audience addressed is the strong element of denial when alcoholism problems arise in many Latino families.

"Our communities just don't want to talk about it," Mora said.

The symposium was attended by about 100 professionals in the field of alcohol and drug-abuse recovery and by represenatives of local politicians.

Recovering alcholics who are working in recovery programs also attended.

"My name is Ruth, and I'm an alcoholic," one young woman in the audience said to the crowd during a question-and-answer period. She told about her alcoholic father, who "bled to death," and her overly strict mother, who refused to acknowledge that he had a problem. Both of the parents were born in Mexico; she was born in the United States.

"We never talked about it," the woman said of her father's drinking. "When he died, I was angry because we had never been close, we had never talked, and I started drinking too.

"I don't know what being Mexican had to do with it; maybe a lot of things," she said.

Rodolfo Acuna, well-known author of several books on Chicano history, said educated and knowledgeable Latinos need to make alcohol abuse in the Latino community a political issue.

"It's our fault if we don't point out the failings of social-service agencies that aren't addressing this problem," he said. "We need to educate the community that there is a problem there. . . . As long as we don't do anything about it, the problem is not going to go away. So, just organize."

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