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Why Minorities Face Higher Risks of Substance Abuse and Mental Health

Why Minorities Face Higher Risks of Substance Abuse and Mental Health

Mental Health Struggles Among Minorities

An average of one in six United States citizens suffer from a diagnosable and treatable mental health issue, with minority groups including Hispanic, Black, Asian, and Native Americans reporting more severe mental health issues. Some recent statistics include:

  • People from African American populations are experiencing much higher instances of severe and disabling depression. 
  • People of Native Americans and Alaskan Native people are reporting much higher feelings of nervousness and restlessness than the general US population.
  • The people with the highest number of reported mental illnesses are those who identify as being of more than one race (24.9%), followed by American Indian and Alaska Natives (22.7%), then white (19%), and black (16.8%). 
  • Binge drinking, smoking (cigarettes and marijuana), illicit drug use, and prescription pain reliever misuse are more frequent among Black and African American adults with mental illnesses. 
  • American Indians and Alaskan Natives have a higher number of people affected by post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol dependency than other ethnic groups in the United States.

These numbers may exist because these groups are many times more likely to be exposed to the risk factors that cause substance abuse and mental health disorders. Not only is everybody in the US currently dealing with mass trauma due to the Covid 19 pandemic, including feelings of uncertainty, isolation, and grief, but people from cultural and ethnic minority groups are also simultaneously experiencing:

  • Continued and historical dehumanization, oppression, and violence against them
  • Structural, institutional, and individual racism
  • Mistrust of the system affects whether or not a person will seek help for mental health disorders in health care systems
  • Health disparities that include inadequate access to the healthcare system and insurance
  • Police brutality and its fetishization in social media

When life feels hopeless, and it is not clear where to reach out to for help and mental health treatments, it is no wonder people suffering from mental health issues are trying other options to self-medicate, including drugs and alcohol.

Substance Abuse in Minorities

Of course, every ethnicity, race, and demographic has a percentage of people who are binge drinking or abusing drugs, but there are subsets of the American population that have been disproportionately affected by drug and alcohol abuse, and the lack of substance abuse and mental health treatment available. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in 2018:

Hispanic and Latino Americans

7.1% of Hispanic and Latino Americans had a substance use disorder, with 57.9% of people having abused alcohol in one year and 17.1% have used illicit drugs. The substance abuse statistics rose significantly in Latino Americans who also had a co-occurring mental health disorder, usually associated with suicidal thoughts or attempts. In many Hispanic families, women are not drinkers, but those born in the US or who immigrated at a young age have a higher rate of substance abuse than those who immigrated later in life.

Black Americans

According to the survey, 20.8% of Black Americans over the age of 12 used illicit drugs over a one-year period, and 57.3% used alcohol, with 6.9% of all Black or African Americans reporting a substance use disorder. There was a positive downward trend of high-school-aged teens drinking about 25% less, and prescription opioid use also went down, while marijuana use rose.

Mental health disorders in the Black community increased, especially depressive episodes, suicidal thoughts, and co-occurring addictions and mental illnesses, and there was a significant lack of treatment for substance use disorders, with 88.7% of people diagnosed with a SUD not seeking treatment due to regular exposure to discrimination and social pressure.

Asian Americans

Asian Americans saw large increases in alcohol use disorders over a one-year period with 11.2% using illicit drugs and 52.6% abusing alcohol, along with increased cocaine use and misuse of prescription stimulants. Like other minority demographics, addiction treatment rates were very low, with 96.2% of people diagnosed with addiction and/or mental illness not seeking treatment. Because Asian Americans are held to high standards both within and outside of their own communities and families, these numbers may not be entirely accurate due to stigmas, cultural constraints, and shame.

Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders

9.3% of Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders (NHOPI) were diagnosed with a substance use disorder, with 21.2% reporting illicit drug use and 54.3% reporting alcohol use. Stimulant drugs were also a popular vice. This group’s overall substance abuse rates are much higher than the national average, possibly due to the fact that the small islands do not provide adequate access to mental health and addiction care.

American Indians and Alaskan Natives

Amongst American Indians and Alaskan Natives (AIAN), 28.5% of people reported illicit drug use, and 55% reported alcohol use, with 10.1% of all AIAN people over age 12 diagnosed with a substance use disorder. Marijuana was the most reported substance used in these groups, with methamphetamine use on the rise in members aged 26 and up. Increased depression, especially in women, was also reported.

In some cultures, the Native American elders blame a loss of tradition for the increasing instances of substance abuse amongst younger people, as those who remain connected to their roots seem to report fewer struggles with drug abuse and mental illness. There is a general distrust of any outside health provider and medicines, and cultural differences may prevent some people from seeking help or substance abuse treatments, instead opting for traditional healing.

Disparities in Treatment for Minorities

The unfortunate truth is that people from racial or ethnic minority groups are less likely to receive adequate mental health care, and when investigated, most evidence for why this is points the finger at barriers to medical access, like:

  • More than half of uninsured US residents are visible minorities
  • Logistical barriers to care like needing to take time off work or finding transportation to and from treatment
  • Cultural differences, racial disparities, and language barriers break down communication and make treatment for difficult issues like mental illness or addiction confusing, scary, or frustrating. Even if translation services are provided, cultural insensitivities can lead to low satisfaction, high dropout rates, and negative health outcomes because they feel that providers do not understand their needs
  • Disparities in access, or a lack of qualified and available professionals available in poorer communities, leave the people in these communities not knowing where to turn for help
  • Provider discrimination and microaggressions against communities of color cause doctors and caregivers to underdiagnose or misdiagnose patients from minority groups or be less likely to recommend treatments
  • Cultural differences in ethnic minority populations cause people to seek alternative medicines, or to feel like they can handle the problem themselves
  • Mental illness stigmas within cultures, with people believing that discussing mental illness is not appropriate and that seeking treatment may cause negative impacts on their work or social lives, with worries that people will think they are “crazy”
  • Many youths from racial and ethnic minority groups are expelled from school, or put into the criminal justice system instead of receiving the psychiatric care they need. Approximately 50% to 75% of youths in the juvenile justice system meet the criteria for a mental health disorder.
  • Distrust in the healthcare system due to previous negative experiences or low quality of care
  • Lack of income or low socioeconomic status triggers stress, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, and minority groups and immigrants are more likely to live in poorer areas. Low income not only means a family is less likely to be able to afford treatment, but they will be less likely to be able to take time off work, find childcare, and take the time they need to heal their mental health and addiction issues.

Factors That Contribute to Higher Risks of Substance Abuse and Mental Health

When substance abuse and mental health disorders happen together, it is called a co-occurring disorder. Roughly 50% of people who have severe mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, depression, or anxiety are also affected by addiction. 37% of alcohol abusers and 53% of drug abusers have at least one serious mental illness. 

These disorders affect each other, and affect the way a person thinks, acts, and handles stress. Because these issues are linked, with the person abusing substances to self-medicate for symptoms of the mental illness as the alcohol and drug abuse increase the underlying risks of mental disorders, they should be treated at the same time in a dual diagnosis addiction and mental health care program.

Some contributing factors to co-occurring disorders in minority populations include:

  • Using alcohol or drugs to cope with unpleasant memories or feelings
  • Using substances to control pain or mood intensity
  • Using alcohol or drugs to stay focused on tasks
  • Using alcohol or drugs to face situations that are intimidating or frightening
  • Having an underlying brain disorder that is triggered by substance use later in life
  • Genetic influences, having a family member who has a substance use disorder or a mental illness
  • Growing up in an environment where drug use, stress, or trauma occurred
Minorities face higher risks of mental health and substance abuse

Meeting The Needs of a Minority in Addiction Treatment

Health care providers can take steps to address minority needs in mental health and addiction treatment, including:

  • Educating themselves, their colleagues, and their communities on the cultural gaps among patients and health care providers
  • Considering their own values and how their stereotypes and perceptions may be influencing the quality of care they are providing
  • Becoming culturally competent, learning about cultural beliefs, needs, religious beliefs, and traditions to be better able to serve those communities with cultural sensitivity
  • Listening to the patients’ needs, empowering them, and helping them feel safe while treating each patient as an individual
  • Taking responsibility for ensuring each patient gets the help and care they need, and calling out discriminatory practices when they occur
  • Integrating mental and behavioral health with primary care
  • Improving access to all types of care, through the support of legislation and policies that address these issues
  • Providing resources and additional support to patients, including education and awareness surrounding mental health, better insurance, and health care coverage, and advocacy and outreach initiatives to reduce barriers to at-risk communities

Resurgence Behavioral Health Drug and Alcohol Rehab

At Resurgence Behavioral Health, we strive to treat each of our patients as individuals, get to know you, and provide culturally appropriate treatment for mental health issues and substance use disorders in an integrated holistic treatment plan. We provide behavioral health care, medical treatments, psychiatric care, relapse prevention treatment, and programs for co-occurring disorders, with several options for detox, inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab, and long-term aftercare programs.

If you or your loved one is suffering from addiction, or if you have an unmet need for mental health care and addiction treatment, contact our team today. We can answer your questions regarding substance abuse and mental health treatments, and insurance coverage, and help you to take the first step down the road to recovery.

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