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Latino/Hispanic workers and alcohol abuse: the influx of Latinos and Hispanics into the Southeastern United States is posing new challenges for employers and EA professionals alike.

The Latino/Hispanic population in the Southeastern United States has exploded over the last 10 years and is now estimated to comprise as much as 7 percent of the region's people, excluding Texas and Florida (Scarsdale 2003). Annually, 40,000 Latinos/Hispanics are moving into states like South Carolina, and this number will most likely increase well into the next decade. Of these Latinos/Hispanics, most are Mexican or Mexican-American depending on where they were born (Santana 2003).

In many respects, what is happening in the Southeast mirrors what has been happening in the rest of the country. Latinos/Hispanics comprise the largest ethnic population in New York and Los Angeles, and in 2003 they became the largest minority in the United States (U.S. Census 2003). But the influx of Latinos/Hispanics into the Southeastern United States marks the first time since the slave trade of the early and mid-1800s that this region has experienced large-scale immigration by a non-traditional population (Scarsdale 2003). This is prompting many employers in the Southeast to establish policies to address the needs of this new population.

Latinos/Hispanics in the Southeast do not fit the mold of the typical migrant worker who spends three months at a farm and then moves on to another state (Rusky 2003). The largest employers in South Carolina, for example, tend to be aggregated in construction (including roofing, road, and demolition work), poultry and meat packing, plastic products, textiles, and produce packaging and handling. Though these industries generally offer year-long, full-time jobs, the work frequently is dangerous (Santana 2003).

The majority of Latino/Hispanic workers speak only Spanish, and many settle in communities in rural areas (Santana 2002). Assisting these communities is difficult because few service providers in rural or semi-rural areas speak Spanish (Barber 2004).


Many national studies have looked at changes in drinking patterns among Caucasians, African Americans, and Hispanics (Delgado 1995). These studies suggest that Hispanics tend to represent a larger percentage of heavy drinkers (Alcocer 1993; Caetano and Kaskutas 1995). Interestingly, acculturation increases rather than decreases drinking behaviors in Mexicans (Caetano and Mexdina 1988, 1999).

A service provider's ability to respond to alcohol-related problems tends to be limited without the resources of a bilingual and bicultural staff (Caetano 1988, 1999). Furthermore, studies show that even when intervention programs specifically target Hispanic populations, the utilization and success rates remain the same over time (Arroyo 2003). Nevertheless, there are some factors that can increase intervention success: civil status, age, gender, and acculturation (Nielsen 2001).

Civil Status. An individual's civil status (single, married, separated/ divorced, or widowed) can help an EA professional determine whether an intervention needs to be more or less intense. Individuals who are divorced or separated usually will have more serious alcohol-related consumption and behavioral problems. Although single individuals have higher consumption rates than their married counterparts, the probability of serious alcohol behavioral problems is lower than for divorced or separated Latinos/Hispanics. Individuals who have left their families back in Latin America can be considered separated, as they frequently experience many of the same problems that a divorced or separated individual faces.

Civil status also can help the EA professional understand the home environment of the Latino/Hispanic client. If the client lives with roommates or alone, peer relationships have a stronger impact on drinking behavior. This finding remains constant for older Latino/ Hispanic males, not just those 25 and under (Treno et al., 1999).

The immigrant individual may feel isolated during holidays, when separation from family and friends is most severe. Winter weather, with its cold, wet, and drab days, can add to the sense of depression, which can lead to self-medication.

Age. Latino/Hispanic males tend to begin drinking at about the same time as Caucasian males--in their late teenage years--and continue until they reach their fifties. At that time, rates of consumption and drinking decline significantly. Latina/Hispanic females, on the other hand, do not drink at all until their late forties or early fifties, especially in immigrant populations (Caetano 1999). This finding is based on self-reported drinking behaviors and reflects cultural norms based on expectations from the individual's country of origin.

Gender. I have found that it is not uncommon for Latino/Hispanic men to report no drinking during the week but heavy drinking (i.e., more than five beers per sitting) during the weekend. The result is that an employer may not realize an employee has a drinking problem until the individual fails to show up on Monday morning due to an arrest or hospitalization during the previous weekend. It is very important that EA professionals inquire about Latino/ Hispanic males' drinking patterns, especially during weekends.

Acculturation. Acculturation is the extent of cultural accommodation an individual attains while in a host country and typically relates to the level of linguistic mastery of the native language. For Latinos/Hispanics, this is a more complicated process due to the proximity of the home country to the United States and the ability to circulate between the two cultures. Mexican adults, for example, tend to acculturate more slowly than Cuban adults, who tend to acculturate quickly, probably because political barriers dissuade them from returning to their home country.

Acculturation tends to increase the rate of drinking, for two reasons. First, disposable income increases in immigrant populations relative to time spent in the host country, thereby increasing an individual's ability to purchase alcohol. Second, the longer an immigrant is separated from family, friends, or familiar sights and customs, the more likely s/he will become depressed or disillusioned. My experience is that most immigrants, when asked, claim they are going to return to their home country in a few years, regardless of whether they have been in the United States a few years or most of their lives.


As the Latino/Hispanic population in the Southeastern United States continues to increase over the next decade and perhaps beyond, so, too, will the demand for services, especially those related to addressing alcohol and substance abuse. Treatment will depend mostly on available resources, which would include those services found in 12-step programs, individual counseling, and inpatient treatment centers.

Unfortunately, without proper linguistic skills and professional credentials, most service providers will struggle with effective interventions. In the next issue of the Journal, I will discuss factors that can increase intervention success.


Arroyo, Judith A., William R. Miller, and J. Scott Tonigan. 2003 "The Influence of Hispanic Ethnicity on Long term Outcome in Three Alcohol Treatment Modalities." Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 64 (7): 98-105.

Barber, Sara. 2004. Personal Communication on June 14. Domestic Abuse Center, Columbia, S.C.

Caetano, Raul. 1994. "Drinking and Alcohol-related Problems Among Minority Women." Alcohol Health & Research World, 18 (3): 233-242.

--. 1988. "Responding to Alcohol-related Problems Among Hispanics." Contemporary Drug Problems, Fall, 335-357.

Caetano, R., and L. Kaskutas. 1995. "Changes in Drinking Patterns among Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics, 1984-1992." Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 56 (9): 548-556.

Delgado, Melvin. 1995. Cultural Competence for Social Workers: A Guide for Alcohol and other Drug Abuse. Boston University Press: Boston, Mass.

Nielsen, Amie L. 2001. "Drinking in Adulthood: Similarities and Differences in Effects of Adult Roles for Hispanic Ethnic Groups and Anglos." Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 62 (6): 745-750.

Rusky, M. 2003. Personal conversation on October 7. South Carolina Migrant and Seasonal Farm Workers Commission.

Santana, I. 2003. "Hispanics in South Carolina." Lecture at Gambrell Hall, October 7, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.

Scarsdale, M. 2003. "Hispanics in South Carolina." Lecture at Gambrell Hall, October 7, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.

Treno, Andrew J., Maria L. Alaniz, and Paul J. Gruenewald. 1999. "Drinking Among U.S. Hispanics: A Multivariate Analysis of Alcohol Consumption Patterns." Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 21 (4): 405-420.

Carl Maas is a contract EA professional for First Sun EAP in Columbia, South Carolina, and director of research, evaluation, and assessment at Health Families South Carolina. He specializes in services to Latino/Hispanic populations.
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Title Annotation:employee assistance
Author:Maas, Carl
Publication:The Journal of Employee Assistance
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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