culture blog

How Has Culture Played a Role in Your Recovery?

When Angela Lopez* was nine years old, the presence of alcohol at a family party stirred her curiosity and she begged her big brother for a sip of his drink. Her brother asked their mom, but when she said “no,” the brother gave his little sister a sip anyway just to appease her curiosity. Instead of placating the little girl’s inquisitiveness, that first sip would later lead to alcohol and drug abuse, dependency, and incarceration. The indulgence in substance abuse did not happen overnight; the slow but steady progression to addiction to other substances occurred through the influence of friends, cousins, and peers at school. Her parents had no clue; alcohol was everywhere and readily accessible at all family functions because it was part of the Mexican culture. Angela was using right under their nose in their own backyard. Doing drugs was considered the “cool” thing to do with her neighbors and cousins, and as long as things seemed normal on the surface, no one suspected anything.

The effects of Angela’s alcohol and drug use were not visible until her performance in school and extra-curricular activities started to drop. In high school, she went from being a straight-A student who was involved in leading teams to ditching class and letting go of her appearance. Her mood swings became much more apparent and her teachers expressed concern over the quality of her work. Still, none of that woke her up to the reality of her drug problem. She continued not only using but also became a drug dealer. It wasn’t until she started getting withdrawal symptoms whenever she wasn’t using that she realized her body had become dependent on crystal meth. Two weeks after this realization, she was arrested for possession of illicit drugs.

Angela, now 29, has successfully recovered from substance abuse after completing a detox program at a dual diagnosis treatment facility. As she moves on with her life as a graduate student majoring in Social Work, she recalls her early recovery days when family members were still offering her a drink here and there at social functions. Certified as a substance abuse counselor, Angela uses her lived experience, culture and education to help clients throughout their recovery journeys.

The Role of Culture in Addiction Recovery

The findings of a study that examined certain cultural groups over a span of 75 years confirm an early hypothesis that culture plays an important and prominent role in alcohol use and misuse (Castro, Barrera, Mena & Aguirre, 2014). In an article published in the New Yorker, the author Malcolm Gladwell compares various cultures in which alcohol serves a certain function. An elderly couple regaled the author with tales of their travels to different countries, and they particularly noted that the Camba community they visited – which consisted of mestizo citizens who descended from Spanish and Indian ancestral lines – embraced alcohol which “served to give the Camba’s drinking a clear structure.” Gladwell also juxtaposes the Italians with the Irish, observing the drastically different effects of alcohol on each culture in the same New Haven community. He writes, “[C]ulture is a more powerful tool in dealing with drinking than medicine, economics or the law.” Given the significance of culture in alcohol use, it is important for substance abuse counselors, clients, friends and family members of clients to understand how culture could also affect their loved ones’ journey to recovery from alcohol and drug addiction.

Cultural Competence in Family Education and Counseling

At New Method Wellness, a premier dual diagnosis treatment center, family education is provided for clients’ significant others, family members and friends who are invested in their loved one’s recovery from substance abuse addiction. Group counseling sessions are conducted by a licensed therapist or certified counselor who covers topics such as the following:

• Expectations during different stages of a person’s recovery
• The influence of the family’s culture on recovery and relapse
• Establishment of roles and boundaries between the client and loved ones
• Influence of social circles and contexts during and after completion of the program

When family members are not emotionally or physically present, New Method Wellness’s Extended Care alumni program provides that safe bridge during a client’s critical period of transition in early recovery, especially if they are returning home to another state. New Method Wellness is committed to each client’s journey to wellness long after they complete their treatment.

To learn more about our Family Counseling programs, call 866.951.1824 to speak to our Outreach Coordinator!

Click here to view clients’ heartfelt testimonials!

Castro, F.G., Barrera, M., Mena, L.A. & Aguirre, K.M. (2014). Culture and Alcohol Use: Historical and Sociocultural Themes from 75 Years of Alcohol Research. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Supplement, (s17), 36–49. Retrieved from
Gladwell, M. (2010. February 15). Drinking Games: How much people drink may matter less than how they drink it. New Yorker [Article]. Retrieved from
*Real names have been removed to preserve confidentiality.

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