UTEP Center to Study How Men Overcame Alcohol Abuse
Last Updated on April 22, 2020 at 12:00 AM
Originally published April 22, 2020
By Daniel Perez
National statistics show that Hispanics — who comprise 82% of the population in El Paso — largely abstain from alcohol. However, when they do drink, they drink in ways that are more likely to adversely impact their lives.
Binge drinking can lead to many types of problems that can affect individuals, their family and their community. Some of these drinkers realize their problem and they have found ways to change their drinking habits with treatment or participation in Alcoholics Anonymous, but many of them change on their own.
Those individuals – the ones who solved their problems through their own devices – can help researchers from The University of Texas at El Paso. A cohort of faculty, staff and students who are part of UTEP’s Latino Alcohol and Health Disparities Research (LAHDR) and Training Center plan to launch a new self-funded research effort, called CAMBIOS, in April 2020 that will focus on successful changes among heavy drinkers that may include abstinence.
For CAMBIOS, LAHDR hopes to recruit Hispanic men ages 20 to 50 from the Paso del Norte region who have effectively changed their drinking behavior. The researchers want to learn what, how and why the participants decided to alter their behavior. The center will study the psychological factors and cultural risks the men encountered.
“In the end, these men have made a change that will impact their lives in positive ways,” said Craig Field, Ph.D., professor of psychology and director of the LAHDR center. “That change will benefit them, their families, their careers and their communities. We want to learn more about the factors that led them to make this change and how those factors contribute to their success. If we better understand what it is that allows them to succeed, we can help others successfully make this change, too.”
Prospective participants are encouraged to read more about CAMBIOS on the LAHDR website, utep.edu/lahdr. The researchers will conduct their study electronically so participants can respond privately at their convenience.
This is an important and worthwhile project, said Raul Caetano, Ph.D., senior research scientist at the Prevention Research Center, which is part of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Berkeley, California. He also is professor emeritus of epidemiology at the The University of Texas School of Public Health, Dallas Regional Campus. He met Field there more than 15 years ago. They have collaborated on several research projects since then.
“People have tried to understand more about why some people can stop drinking or control their drinking in a moderate way after being dependent, while so many others don’t,” Caetano said. “What is the difference? What is it that some people do to be successful? It’s a very difficult issue to understand.”
Caetano, a member of LAHDR’s advisory council, called Field “an excellent researcher” who is an expert in studies to reduce alcohol-related injuries in a medical setting, particularly among Hispanics. This research has led to a culturally informed intervention that is tailored to the needs and values of Hispanics.
He also lauded UTEP for its support of LAHDR, which Field established in 2014. Caetano called it an important center based in an area of major interest to alcohol abuse researchers. He called the U.S.-Mexico border a unique place to study because U.S. residents, especially older teens, often go to Mexico, where the drinking age is lower – 18 as opposed to 21 – and the alcohol is cheaper.
“Dr. Field is an asset for UTEP and the center creates a lot of opportunities for communication, collaboration, education and training of psychology students,” Caetano said.
Among those students is Dylan K. Richards, a doctoral student in general psychology who expects to graduate from UTEP in May 2020. The El Paso native previously earned his master’s degree in experimental psychology from the University in 2018. He began to work with Field and LAHDR in 2015 and has taken on a central role in the center.
Richards, a first-generation college graduate, said the purpose of his LAHDR research was to understand better the psychosocial factors that influence alcohol use and misuse. He plans to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship to examine the role of protective drinking behaviors to reduce problems associated with alcohol.
“The public health burden of alcohol misuse is substantial,” Richards said. He called LAHDR’s work important because it tries to address alcohol misuse with a focus on alcohol-related health disparities among Hispanics/Latinx. “Hispanics/Latinx are underrepresented in research and, despite drinking less, are more likely than whites to experience alcohol-related problems and less likely than whites to receive alcohol treatment. There is no other alcohol research center in the country with this focus.”
Field said this kind of research is among the reasons national organizations have recognized LAHDR for training the community in this evidenced-based approach and the research associated with it. He and LAHDR team members have shared their cutting-edge research at numerous conferences across the country through the years.
One of the most recent examples of the notoriety was when the American Public Health Association featured LAHDR at its annual conference in November 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The presentation included a video that documents the center’s scope and achievements.
The center plans to start an additional research project, called CLARITY, next fall. It will involve community members who are in the process of changing their drinking habits.