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Latinos Get Help to Fight Alcoholism

July 27, 1986|ROD LAZO | Times Community Correspondent

When Jaime left the Navy in 1975 after spending several months in an anti-alcoholism program, his file was stamped "CURED" in big red letters.

However, the Navy's program was not successful in helping the 31-year-old Latino, who asked that his real name not be used, to permanently overcome his alcohol problem. By 1984 he was drunk again, sometimes for days at a time.

But this time, Jaime, a Rosemead resident, ended up in an El Monte-based program for alcoholics and their families. And he has not had a drink for more than two years.

Geared Toward Latinos

Jaime attributes his success partly to the fact that the program--which is administered by the Community Service Organization, a nonprofit group that provides a wide variety of bilingual services for Latinos throughout Los Angeles County--took into account significant cultural differences in treating him for his alcoholism.

The El Monte program is one of several alcoholism programs throughout the county geared toward Latinos.

The Community Service Organization also runs family programs in East Los Angeles and Pico Rivera and operates programs at five other locations for people arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

When he entered the program, Jaime was given a choice of attending counseling and discussion sessions conducted in either English or Spanish. And before he could be admitted to the program, he was told he had to take a member of his family or someone very close to him and introduce that person to the program's director.

'I Was Petrified'

"When they mentioned family visit, I was ready to run out the door. . . . I was petrified," he said.

"I came here because I didn't want to be like my folks, who were both alcoholics," said Jaime, a bachelor whose mother died of the disease.

"(Alcoholism) is a family disease," said Armando Garcia, director of the El Monte program, which is funded by the county. "It's not just the individual who is having the problem; the family is also having the problem."

Garcia said that long-term recovery usually depends on the establishment of a strong support system that provides a non-drinking environment for the alcoholic.

"If we can get the family educated on the do's and don'ts of alcohol, they can be a big help, but if the individual himself gets sober and the family does not, the chances of going back (to drinking) are very, very high," Garcia said.

In the case of Latino alcoholics, the family is a crucial factor in achieving recovery, he said, because family ties are especially important.

Among Latinos, Garcia said, denial of alcoholism is more common than in other groups. And because admitting that a drinking problem exists is the first step toward recovery, overcoming the denial is crucial.

Culturally Approved Drinking

"There is denial because we have traditions of celebration, and there is always drinking involved," said Julie Rodriguez, outreach coordinator at the center.

She said that baptisms, holidays, birthdays and a variety of other celebrations traditionally have included drinking and dancing.

"We're aware of cultural factors when these people come in," she said.

For example, Garcia said, he finds that it is difficult for Latinos to come to terms with drinking problems because of a cultural machismo that leads men to equate strength with the ability to drink large amounts of liquor.

Distorted View

"There is a distorted view of manliness," he said.

For one man who now participates in a discussion group for those who have completed the program, talking about his problems with other Latinos helps him relax and allows him to be more open about himself.

"If an Anglo walked in here, he would be accepted, but he would still probably feel uncomfortable," said the man, who said he has not had a drink for more than two years and is rising in the ranks of a large company.

Another man said that achieving sobriety and going through the program have helped him deal with an animosity that he previously felt toward Anglos.

Brotherhood of Drunks

"Even though this country is built on immigrants and different people, the whites think they own it, and that has always been a thorn in my side," he said. "Recovery got me away from the prejudice I had (against Anglos) because if a person is an alcoholic, it doesn't mater what color he is.

"Part of my recovery was getting self-esteem and appreciating myself the way I am."

Jim Hernandez, director of the California Hispanic Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, a state-funded organization, said that there are no official statistics on the number of Latino alcoholics and no way to compare Latino alcoholics with any other group.

But he said that a commission-conducted study in 1978 comparing the number of liquor outlets in different demographic areas found that communities with large concentrations of Latino residents had a greater number of outlets.

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