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Drug and alcohol abuse is a significant public health problem that is widespread among people of all ages, economic backgrounds, races, and ethnicities. Drug use may involve illegal drugs like cocaine or marijuana, or it may involve the misuse and abuse of prescribed medications. The prolonged misuse of drugs of many types can lead to long term changes in the chemical balances in the brain.

Substance abuse is linked with many negative health-related consequences such as cancers, cardiovascular diseases and stroke, fatal and nonfatal overdose, hepatitis, complications in pregnancy, mental illness, and HIV infection. Substance use can also exacerbate mental health problems and vulnerabilities such as depression, anxiety, and suicide risk.

There are various definitions of Substance Abuse, but the most consistent is the DSM IV. DSM-IV defines substance abuse as: “A maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress occurring within a 12-month period” [24] Indicators of substance abuse typically include:
  • Failure to meet obligations at home, work, or school
  • Use which creates danger situations – such as driving a car under the influence
  • Use which causes legal problems – such as arrests
  • Continued use despite negative social and interpersonal consequences such as severe relationship problems with family members or a spouse.

Although effective treatments are available, the majority of individuals in need of treatment do not receive it. Research often focuses on:
  • Designing more effective treatments
  • Identifying strategies for getting people the treatment they need
  • Making sure that the cultural uniqueness of minority families are taken into account in treatment.

What are we doing at El Centro to help prevent and treat substance abuse?

El Centro’s adolescent treatment programs, developed by Dr. Daniel Santisteban and Dr. Maite Mena, work with minority youth who are struggling with depression, suicide risk, aggression/violence, ADHD, school failure, drug use, and the severe family conflicts that result from these behaviors.

In addition, El Centro has collaborated with national organizations, such as The Partnership for Drugfree.org, to provide Hispanic parents tools and information to deal with adolescents having problems with substances. Below are links to access videos for the Spanish version of the Parent Toolkit, “Habla Con Tus Hijos: Un Recurso para padres sobre drogas y alcohol” (Talk To Your Kids: A resource on drugs and alcohol for parents), which features Dr. Daniel Santisteban providing information on adolescent drug use issues.


For more information visit our El Centro Substance Abuse Resources page

El Centro’s intervention program for women, developed by Dr. Victoria Mitrani and colleagues addresses family, social and other ecological factors that impact substance abusers. At the core of these programs is the identification of individual and family strengths and other resources that can support the substance abuser in her or his recovery.

El Centro researchers are also conducting studies to learn about the links between substance abuse and other conditions. These studies are designed to generate findings that can be useful in the development of new interventions.
  • Dr. Joseph De Santis is conducting research on the linkages between mental health, depression and sexual risk behaviors among sexual minorities.
  • Dr. Rosa González-Guarda is conducting research on the complex interrelationships among substance abuse, violence and AIDS known as the SAVA syndemic.
  • Dr. Brian McCabe conducts research on the linkages between substance abuse and psychological distress.

Our links in the right hand column provide more specific information such as prevalence, common substances, and list of subgroups and co-occurring conditions that substance abuse affects. Finally, we have a resource page that provides links to specific webpages that can provide immediate information and support.