Understanding barriers to specialty substance abuse treatment among Latinos

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2018 Nov:94:1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2018.08.004. Epub 2018 Aug 8.


Background: National studies have documented that Latinos are less likely to use specialty substance abuse treatment (e.g., rehabilitation programs, in/out-patient services) than other racial/ethnic groups. Disparities in treatment utilization are particularly pronounced between Latinos and Whites. Few national studies have explicitly examined barriers to treatment by race/ethnicity, and current results are inconclusive. The purpose of this study was to gain a better understanding of barriers to specialty substance abuse treatment among Latinos.

Methods: In 2017-2018, in-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with 54 White, Black, and Latino participants who met eligibility criteria for a recent substance use disorder. Participants were recruited via online ads and screened for eligibility through an online survey. Interview questions were grounded in the Theory of Planned Behavior (TBP): Participants were asked about treatment-related barriers in the domains of attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived control. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and coded by two independent coders. Barriers were compared across all interviews and by race/ethnicity.

Results: Latinos were significantly more likely to report attitudinal and subjective norm barriers than their White and Black counterparts. Within the attitudes domain, results suggested that Latinos largely avoided specialty treatment due to barriers stemming from cultural factors, perceived treatment efficacy, recovery goals, and perceived treatment need. In the area of subjective norms, stigma and perceived lack of social support from family were more pervasive among Latinos' narratives. Lastly, in terms of perceived control, a minority of Latinos reported logistical barriers to treatment.

Conclusion: Specialty substance abuse treatment services have been found to be effective regardless of race/ethnicity. Understanding why Latinos use specialty treatment at low rates is key to reducing existing racial/ethnic disparities related to substance abuse. This study identified several malleable barriers that interventions can target to increase Latinos' utilization of treatment. These barriers may also be key to explaining Latino-White disparities in treatment utilization.

Keywords: Alcohol use disorders; Latinos; Racial/ethnic disparities; Specialty treatment; Substance use disorders; Treatment utilization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health
  • Black or African American / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Healthcare Disparities / statistics & numerical data
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychological Theory
  • Social Support
  • Substance-Related Disorders / ethnology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy*
  • White People / statistics & numerical data*