Why Minorities Are at Higher Risk of Substance Abuse

Unfortunately, many Americans from all walks of life suffer from substance use disorder. But minorities are often at a higher risk of substance abuse. And just as troubling, they are less likely to seek addiction treatment. There is a lot going on under the surface of anyone’s addiction, however, addiction seems to be compounded when race is examined alongside it.

Systematic Oppression and Biases

The institution of white supremacy has created an environment of constant stress, dehumanization, and marginalization for non-whites. White supremacy’s need to create a hierarchy of groups of people means that there are systems and justifications firmly rooted in the minds of the people that particular groups deserve to be ostracized, treated differently, distrusted, ignored, and feared. Many of the minorities that are othered by white supremacy are systematically kept in less than favorable positions regarding job opportunities, quality of education, living conditions, and financial opportunities. This can lead to feelings of hopelessness, engaging in risky behaviors, and substance abuse. Substance abuse can indeed and does affect people from all walks of life, and that’s why substance programs in Utah are such a valuable community resource.

Hispanics and Latino Americans

Just over 7% of Latinos have had a substance use disorder, with nearly 60% of those individuals having abused alcohol and 17% abusing illicit drugs. Substance abuse statistics show that Latino Americans with co-occurring conditions had higher incidences of substance abuse. Another interesting statistic is that women who immigrate to America later on in their lives tend to have a lower rate of substance abuse than those born in America or immigrated here at a young age. This is likely linked to American culture and cultural values.

Black Americans

Almost 7% of Black Americans have had a substance use disorder, with nearly 60% of those individuals having used alcohol and almost 21% having used illicit drugs. Among high school-aged Black Americans, opioid and alcohol use has decreased, while marijuana use has increased. Historically, there has been a severe lack of treatment for Black Americans suffering from substance use disorders with close to 90% of those opting not to seek treatment due to routine discrimination and social pressure.

Asian Americans

Drug abuse like cocaine use and misuse of prescription stimulants are on the rise among Asian Americans, as is alcohol abuse. A little more than 10% are using illicit drugs. Addiction treatment rates for Asian Americans are low, just as most other minorities in America; but the reason is that Asian Americans are often held to a higher standard of conduct amongst their community members and other members of society. Social stigmas, cultural constraints, and shame are just a few reasons why these numbers are likely skewed.

Native Americans

Close to 30% of Native Americans reported illicit drug use and 55% reported alcohol use. Marijuana is the most popular; however, methamphetamine use is on the rise amongst those over the age of 26. The prevailing thought is that those who have fallen away from their traditions are more susceptible to engaging in substance abuse. Most Native Americans are very distrustful of outside medical assistance and treatments due to their history with the established institutions of this country, and would rather opt for more culturally traditional medicines.

There are lots of factors that contribute to a higher risk of substance abuse among minorities. Cultural differences, racial disparities, cultural insensitivities, and language barriers are just some of the things that make getting treatment difficult or less likely.


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