Alcohol and Drug Abuse Among the Hispanic Population

2 min read · 3 sections

Hispanic Americans are one of the fastest growing segments of the United States population. The U.S. Bureau of the Census estimates that there are 60 million people of Hispanic origin (as of July 1, 2018) living in the United States, comprising 18.3% of the total population.1

With the Hispanic population expected to increase to over 30% of the population by 2050,2 it is imperative that we address any substance abuse and addiction treatment disparities currently experienced by these individuals.

Substance Abuse Among Hispanic Americans

The rates of substance abuse among Hispanic Americans generally mirror those of the general U.S. population, although there are some slight differences. Findings from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health include:3

  • 7.1% of Hispanic Americans have a substance use disorder, compared to a rate of 7.4% among the total population.
  • 3% of Hispanic Americans have an illicit drug use disorder (the same rate as that among the total population).
  • Hispanic Americans report lower rates of lifetime illicit drug use (37.7%) than European (54.5%) and African Americans (45.9%)
  • Rates of past month and past year drug use among Hispanics are comparable to those of other ethnic groups.
  • Rates of alcohol dependence (5.3%) and binge drinking (24.6%) among Hispanics are similar to those of European Americans and slightly higher than those of African Americans.

Differences Across Hispanic Communities

Although Hispanic Americans are often studied as a single population, there are important differences in the rates of substance abuse among different Hispanic subgroups.

A report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse describes differences among the U.S. Hispanic population that include:4

  • Puerto Ricans have the highest rate of recent illicit drug use (6.9%) and South Americans have the lowest (2.1%).
  • Puerto Ricans have the highest rate of recent marijuana use (5.6%) while Cubans and South Americans have the lowest (2.1%).
  • Other Hispanics (individuals originating from a Spanish speaking country other than Puerto Rico, Mexico, Cuba, Central America, and South America) have the highest rate of recent cocaine use (1.7%) while Cubans have the lowest (0.5%).

According to a recent study published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, Puerto Rican men and women tend to be the heaviest drinkers of all Hispanic Americans.5 The study authors propose that the reason Puerto Ricans are almost 3 times more likely to develop alcohol use disorders than non-Hispanic white Americans is because of cultural differences that include:

  • Drinking starts at an earlier age in traditional Puerto Rican culture.
  • There is less stigma concerning alcohol in Puerto Rico compared to the contiguous U.S.

The study also notes that Cuban men drink the least of Hispanic men and Mexican women drink the least of Hispanic women. Beer is the preferred beverage across all Hispanic subgroups in the U.S., followed by wine.5

The Discrepancy in Treatment Options and Outcomes Among Hispanics

Substance abuse is a concerning public health problem in the United States. Unfortunately, Hispanic Americans experience greater consequences of their abuse of substances compared to than their non-Hispanic counterparts.

Although the rates of substance abuse among Hispanic Americans do not differ from those of the overall U.S. population, there is a gap between Hispanics and the rest of the population when it comes to substance abuse treatment.

Studies show that despite being more likely to need substance abuse treatment, Hispanic Americans have less access to substance abuse treatment and must wait longer to access such services when compared to non-Hispanics.6-7

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that 91% of Hispanic Americans with a substance use disorder are unable to receive the treatment that they need at a specialty facility (such as substance abuse rehabilitation centers).3 And those who do receive treatment do not fare as well as the rest of the population, as studies show that Hispanic Americans have poorer outcomes in substance abuse treatment programs.8

Some of the disparities in treatment that occur within the Hispanic community can be resolved through increased availability of culturally sensitive treatment programs.

Some key features that need to be incorporated into treatment programs tailored for Hispanics include the offering of bilingual or exclusively Spanish speaking activities and acknowledgment of Hispanic cultural values such as family structures, gender roles, personal relationships, respect, spirituality, and religion.9


  1. United States Bureau of the Census. (2019). Quick Facts: Hispanic, percent.
  2. Ennis, S. R., Rios-Vargas, M., & Albert, N. G. (2011). The Hispanic population: 2010 (2010 Census Briefs C2010BR-04). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau.
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health Detailed Tables.
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2003). Drug Use Among Racial/Ethnic Minorities.
  5. Ríos-Bedoya, C.F., & Freile-Salinas, D. (2014). Incidence of Alcohol Use Disorders Among Hispanic Subgroups in the USA. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 49(5), 549–556.
  6. Wells, K., Klap, R., Koike, A., & Sherbourne, C. (2001). Ethnic disparities in unmet need for alcoholism, drug abuse, and mental health care. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 158(12), 2027-2032.
  7. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2012). The NSDUH Report: Need for and Receipt of Substance Use Treatment among Hispanics.
  8. Chartier, K.G., Carmody, T., Akhtar, M., Stebbins, M.B., Walters, S.T., & Warden, D. (2016). Hispanic Subgroups, Acculturation, and Substance Abuse Treatment Outcomes. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 59, 74-82.
  9. Alvarez, J., Jason, L.A., Olson, B.D., Ferrari, J.R., & Davis, M.I. (2007). Substance abuse prevalence and treatment among Latinos and Latinas. Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse, 6(2), 115-141.
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