Addiction in BIPOC Community

The impact of substance abuse and addiction is widespread but can affect various communities in different ways. In the United States, the BIPOC community (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) face some unique challenges relating to addiction and mental health compared to white people. These challenges include healthcare disparities, lack of access to treatment facilities, and an absence of public health policymaker representation.

Addiction Trends in the BIPOC Community

Addiction is a chronic brain disease that impacts the areas of the brain that control motivation, pleasure, and memory. When someone suffers from addiction, their brain is so reliant on that substance that it can’t function without it.

While addiction is often associated with substance abuse, someone can also be addicted to a behavior or activity. When a person is suffering from an addiction that is not involving a substance of abuse, it is called behavioral addiction.

Additionally, problems like systemic racism and cultural biases can increase the risk for BIPOC individuals struggling with their mental health, which can lead individuals to substance abuse as a means of coping.

Access to substance abuse and mental health treatment has improved for those in the BIPOC community, but can still improve more. Statistics show that people of color suffer from mental health and addiction issues at a higher rate than their white counterparts.

Thankfully, healthcare providers in the mental health and substance use disorder fields are more aware of these disparities than ever, working to provide equal treatment access to everyone regardless of gender, race, or income.

BIPOC Addiction Statistics

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), over 32% of all individuals in the BIPOC community suffer from addiction. Of that roughly 32%, only a little more than 6% get the treatment they need.

Below are additional facts about addiction and treatment within the BIPOC Community, separated by individual ethnic groups.

Black Community

  • 22% misuse illicit drugs
  • 11% abuse both drugs and alcohol
  • 13% suffer from drug or alcohol addiction
  • 3% suffer from both addiction and a mental health disorder

Native American and Indigenous Community

  • 25% misuse illicit substances
  • 10% suffer from a drug addiction
  • 7% suffer from alcoholism
  • 4% suffer from both addiction and a mental health disorder

Hispanic and Latino Community

  • 19% misuse illicit drugs
  • 13% abuse both drugs and alcohol
  • 12% suffer from either a drug or alcohol addiction

Asian American and Pacific Islander Community

  • 7.1% of Asian American adolescents (ages 12-17) have tried alcohol
  • Close to 14% of all Asian American and Pacific Islanders aged 18-25 need substance abuse treatment

(These statistics come from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health via the National Institute of Health.)

Harmful Stereotypes About BIPOC Drug Use

Stereotypes that have festered for decades can result in people of color not only being at a higher risk of suffering from addiction and mental illness. It can also result in those in the BIPOC community not getting the help they need.

Unfortunately, one of the pervasive stereotypes about minority ethnic groups is that they are more likely to abuse alcohol and other substances. While statistical data shows higher substance abuse among the BIPOC community compared to their white counterparts, additional context may be needed. This data does not consider the wide range of struggles BIPOC people face (or have faced over the past 100+ years).

It should also be noted that different ethnicities were affected by different drugs that became cultural fixtures. Crack cocaine is a good example of a cheap, highly addictive drug available that has ravaged poverty-stricken communities. Many stereotypes originated from cultural or racial bias and were falsely “confirmed” by the rise of criminal activity within communities affected.

That is a dangerously false equivocation, however, because it insinuates that the communities affected would be violent criminals without the introduction of the drug.

This harmful stereotype can prevent Black people and other POC from receiving competent care from health professionals, who may simply assume that BIPOC addicts are degenerates, criminals, or brought their addiction upon themselves.

In truth, anyone struggling with an addiction deserves to receive the same quality care as the next person.

Risk Factors for Substance Abuse Among BIPOC People

People in the BIPOC community are often at a disadvantage for no reason other than their skin color.

There are many struggles that people of color deal with, such as:

  • Systemic racism
  • Lack of insurance
  • Not having the means to pay for treatment
  • Fear of incarceration
  • Lack of nuclear family structure
  • Lack of visible role models
  • Lack of access to treatment facilities
  • Lack of leadership and support within the community
  • Lack of representation and support from public health policymakers
  • Disparities in healthcare, including a lack of cultural awareness from healthcare providers

These struggles can increase the risk of turning to substance abuse as an unhealthy coping mechanism.

Discrimination and Social Problems

In the United States, many Black Americans and other people of color still deal with race-related injustices in their day-to-day lives.

Studies have shown that discrimination, racism, and trauma individuals in the BIPOC community face can lead to a greater risk of mental and substance abuse issues, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and addiction.

Lack of Support Systems

People of color living in poorer neighborhoods may lack access to community programs to help those struggling, especially in their adolescent years. Without any sort of support system, many turn to drugs and alcohol. It is also widely documented that people with addiction are more likely to recover when strong family support systems and role models for change exist.

Cultural Factors

Some cultures greatly respect stoicism and may look down on individuals who ask for help and support. For instance, the Latino community traditionally appreciates strength and machismo over vulnerability, which may be viewed as a weakness. For this reason, individuals in some cultures may hesitate to seek help for their substance abuse struggles, believing themselves to be weak or that they need to handle it on their own.

Addiction Treatment Options for BIPOC

While some factors may present challenges to BIPOC individuals seeking substance abuse treatment, many addiction treatment options are available. Many treatment centers specialize in working with people of color suffering from substance abuse and mental health conditions.

Treatment Centers

When the time comes for those in the BIPOC community to seek help, finding a BIPOC specialty center is a fantastic option. Because of some of the unique struggles that people of color deal with regularly, such as racism and racial profiling, they might require specialized treatment, especially from a mental health perspective.

Healthcare providers working at these treatment centers are specially trained to help BIPOC individuals with their unique struggles as minorities, using compassion (and often personal experiences) to help recovering addicts work through their traumas during their recovery journey.

Inpatient Rehab

Inpatient addiction treatment provides patients with a safe and structured environment to live in while they complete rehab. Depending on the facility, inpatient treatment also provides round-the-clock medical care, supervision, therapy, and additional education.

Inpatient treatment is typically recommended for more severe addictions or those who have been through rehab.

Outpatient Treatment

Not everyone needing treatment can or needs to live at a treatment facility. Outpatient treatment programs can be an ideal solution for many recovering BIPOC addicts.

Outpatient treatment provides the same therapy and treatments as inpatient care without requiring patients to stay overnight. The level of care provided through outpatient services can vary depending on the individual’s needs.

Other Addiction Treatment Services

Getting help for substance abuse and addiction involves more than just going to rehab. These other services are crucial to a person’s overall recovery and well-being.

Medical Detox Services

When a person quits using a substance, their body undergoes a detoxification process as it rids itself of any of that substance. During this time, it is common for the body to experience withdrawal as a typical side effect. Therefore, seeking the advice of a doctor or addiction specialist is strongly recommended before quitting any substance.

Medical detox for severe or dangerous substance abuse can occur at dedicated detox centers, select treatment centers, and some medical facilities. However, in most cases, medical detox can occur on an outpatient basis.

Attempting to self-detox can be incredibly dangerous. Some substances can cause life-threatening side effects when an individual quits them. Therefore, seeking the advice of a medical professional is essential when quitting any type of substance use.

Mental Health and Counseling Services

Counseling services are a critical part of the overall recovery process. Therapy helps those in recovery identify the triggers and behaviors that led to their addiction. Often, treatment programs will use a combination of individual and group therapy sessions for a well-rounded treatment approach.

Because people of color often have unique life challenges compared to their white counterparts, they may seek therapists and mental health professionals that are also BIPOC.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Some substances, such as narcotics and opioids, require more than just the standard detox. Medication-assisted treatment is offered for those substances to help make the detox process safer and more comfortable.

Some common medications given to those in MAT include:

Historically, those in the BIPOC community have faced challenges accessing MAT. Studies have shown that those with access to buprenorphine treatment tend to be white and have a higher income status than those who get methadone treatment.

BIPOC-Specific Programs

Many support groups, outreach programs, and other nonprofit organizations exist specifically to cater to the BIPOC community.

Some examples include:

  • The Racial Equity Support Line (503-575-3764): This hotline is open on weekdays from 10 AM to 7 PM PST and exists to help those dealing with the emotional impact of racism. This hotline will also provide additional resources if needed for your situation.
  • BEAM Community: Short for Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective, this organization works to pair Black people with other Black medical providers, including therapists, physicians, addiction counselors, and more.
  • Melanin and Mental Health: This organization helps people of color find other BIPOC therapists and other mental wellness professionals. Working with a therapist that understands the nuances of dealing with racism and other BIPOC struggles can help BIPOC patients feel more supported.
  • Recovery Dharma Online: Based on Buddhist theology, this online support group is centered around BIPOC individuals dealing with and recovering from addiction.

BIPOC Addiction Treatment Challenges

In some cases, health disparities impacting the BIPOC community range from issues with physical healthcare to mental healthcare.

Medical bias, access to adequate care, and a lack of cultural competence can all be barriers for BIPOC seeking addiction treatment. For instance, the lack of diversity in many treatment centers can harm a person of color’s overall view of treatment and make interactions and trust more difficult.

People of color can also be unfairly stereotyped because of a lack of diversity in the medical community.

Language Barriers

For people who are not English speakers, getting addiction treatment can be more difficult. Communication issues are discouraging and can also cause vital information to get misunderstood or lost in translation.

Medical Bias

Unfortunately, lack of medical access still impacts those in the BIPOC community seeking help for substance abuse. In many cases, this disparity is caused by a lack of screening for drug and alcohol abuse by primary care providers.

A 2018 study conducted by a group of physicians in New Mexico serving predominately BIPOC communities found that only 25% of clinicians screened their patients for drug and alcohol use during their visits.

Cultural Stoicism

As mentioned before, some cultures hold stoicism in high regard, so seeking help for addiction or another mental illness might be looked down upon. This cultural stigma might prevent BIPOC individuals from seeking help or treatment for an issue with substance abuse.

Religious Barriers

Some religions treat substance abuse, addiction, and/or mental health as a “spiritual battle” and advise people to avoid treatment besides prayer and religious devotion. This perspective can cause people in the BIPOC community to feel afraid to admit that they are suffering, leading them to believe they don’t deserve treatment.

Access to Facilities

Sometimes, adequate treatment facilities are located far away from communities where people of color live. Getting adequate treatment then requires travel to these facilities, which may not be possible for some people.

Additionally, some individuals in the BIPOC might be unable to afford the cost associated with treatment and may not have insurance coverage for addiction treatment.

Are You a BIPOC Individual Looking for Treatment?

Don’t suffer in silence. You can find the addiction treatment that caters to your experience as a BIPOC person.

Call the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-662-4357 or visit their online program locator to find addiction treatment options in your area.

FAQs about Addiction in BIPOC Communities

How does culture play a role in addiction?

The environment a person is brought up in and how they are raised can play a significant role in how they view drugs and alcohol and addiction and treatment.

What are the negative effects of addiction on BIPOC communities?

Addiction affects those in the BIPOC community in a unique way. People of color often have a harder time accessing treatment for various reasons, including cost and location.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction GuideWritten by:

Content Manager

Jessica Miller is a USF graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in English. She has written professionally for over a decade, from HR scripts and employee training to business marketing and company branding. In addition to writing, Jessica spent time in the healthcare sector (HR) and as a high school teacher. She has personally experienced the pitfalls of addiction and is delighted to bring her knowledge and writing skills together to support our mission. Jessica lives in St. Petersburg, FL with her husband and two dogs.

12 references
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  2. African Americans often face challenges accessing substance use treatment. The Pew Charitable Trusts. (n.d.). Retrieved November 27, 2022, from https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2020/03/26/african-americans-often-face-challenges-accessing-substance-use-treatment

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  5. Wu, L.-T., Woody, G. E., Yang, C., Pan, J.-J., & Blazer, D. G. (2011, November). Racial/ethnic variations in substance-related disorders among adolescents in the United States. Archives of general psychiatry. Retrieved November 27, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3395319/

  6. ASAM – American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2021, February 25). Advancing Racial Justice in addiction medicine. Default. Retrieved November 27, 2022, from https://www.asam.org/advocacy/public-policy-statements/details/public-policy-statements/2021/02/25/public-policy-statement-on-advancing-racial-justice-in-addiction-medicine

  7. Substance Abuse & Asian American Pacific Islanders. Retrieved November 27, 2022 from https://aapaonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/AA-Substance-Use_final-web.pdf. (2016, May).

  8. BIPOC only (black, indigenous, people of color). Recovery Dharma Online. (2022, March 23). November 27, 2022, 2022, from https://recoverydharma.online/bipoc/

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  10. Home. Lines For Life. (n.d.). Retrieved November 27, 2022 from https://www.linesforlife.org/racial-equity-support-line/

  11. O’Neal, V. P., Taluy, S., Bell, L. S., Skinner-Spain, A., & Demas, G. (2022, January 11). Home. Melanin & Mental Health®. Retrieved November 27, 2022 from https://www.melaninandmentalhealth.com/?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=idealist

  12. Saloner, B., & Lê Cook, B. (2014, January 1). Blacks and Hispanics are less likely than whites to complete addiction treatment, largely due to socioeconomic factors. Health affairs (Project Hope). Retrieved November 27, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3570982/

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