Ethnicity and Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse can be defined as the harmful and excessive use of legal or illegal drugs (including alcohol & tobacco) in a way that is detrimental to physical or mental health of the individual or others. Substance abuse is an affliction that does not discriminate between young and old, rich or poor, black or white. It affects men and women all over the world and the consequences can be destructive and harmful.

The World Health Organization estimates that 155 – 250 million people or 3-5 per cent of the population aged 15-64 used illicit substances in the previous year. Of these, between 16 and 38 million people are considered problem drug users. Problem drug users are those who regularly use drugs and have social and health complications as a result of their drug use. Cannabis, amphetamines and opiates are the most popular drugs used. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs are increasingly being abused throughout the world. In the United States, these substances were reportedly the primary abuse drug in 4 per cent of all treatment admissions in 2002.

Alcohol is consumed by nearly 12 per cent of the world population in high risk occasions on a weekly basis according to the World Health Organization’s 2010 Global Alcohol Report. The report reveals that the highest levels of alcohol consumption is found in developed countries such as Europe, America and Australia.

Defining Ethnicity

Multiculturalism and diversity are important factors in modern society. Communities are made up of citizens from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Our society is an amalgamation of hundreds of different languages, beliefs, values, religions and skin colors that all have a relevant and exciting role in the world. Ethnicity is shaped by the cultural attitudes, values, experiences, beliefs and customs of a group to which a person identifies with. It can influence a person’s responses, options, behaviors and emotions to particular events, including entering an institution or hospital for drug or alcohol therapy.

Ethnicity refers to the term ethnic which means of or related to a group of people having common racial, national, religious or cultural origins. Ethnicity is often used as a tool for identifying minority groups such as those who are Aboriginal, Native, or identify with a particular country of origin. This identification is beneficial to target specific health programs to minority groups such as drug and alcohol information and mental health programs.

Treatment and Ethnicity

Treatments for alcoholism or drug abuse problems are increasingly focusing on the development of culturally and ethnically sensitive options. The involvement of values, experiences, histories, resources and traditions into treatment that are specific to cultural groups may provide some benefit to individuals undergoing therapy. Issues such as colonization, discrimination, inequity, migration and persecution are not to be undervalued in the individual’s background and development of a treatment plan. These issues can play an important role in self efficacy, attitudes and involvement of family and friends, communication, therapist style and motivation.

Representation of Ethnicity in Alcoholism Data

The American National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) research has shown that adult drinking and adult heavy drinking is most prevalent for individuals who identify as American Indians, Alaskan Natives and Native Hawaiians. In adolescent minority groups, Hispanic Americans have the highest prevalence of heavy drinking, closely followed by those identifying as White Americans.

In Australia, the National Drug Strategy Household Survey data revealed that in 2004 Aboriginal Australian’s were overrepresented in the figures relating to alcohol abuse and treatment. Approximately 15 per cent of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders were reported to consume alcohol at risky or high risk levels. Interestingly, this figure was found to be not significantly different for non-Indigenous individuals. For Australians who were born in North Africa or the Middle East, approximately 2 per cent reportedly consumed alcohol at risky or high risk levels. Interestingly, 4 per cent of those born in South East Asia and 6 per cent of Southern or Eastern Europe drank at risky or high risk levels.

The United Kingdom differs from alcoholism figures reported in the USA and Australia. Individuals who were born in Ireland or Scotland (or White ethnic groups) have the highest levels of alcohol consumption at risky or high risk levels. The other major ethnic groups who live in the United Kingdom are those from South Asia (India, Pakistan & Bangladesh) and Africa. All these have reported low levels of alcohol consumption which is due to religious or cultural reasons.

Drug Abuse and Ethnicity

Drug abuse is defined as the excessive and harmful use of legal or illegal drugs. Illicit drug abuse typically involves the use of drugs including cocaine, heroin, marijuana, amphetamines, methamphetamine and psychoactive drugs such as LSD and ecstasy. Prescription drug abuse is the use of prescription medication in a way that is not prescribed or for reasons other than as prescribed. Commonly abused prescription medications include Ritalin, Xanax, Valium, Vicodin, Dexedrine, Prozac, Lomotil and Ephedrine.

Problem drug users are those who inject drugs or are considered physically or mentally dependent on drugs. These users are facing serious social and health consequences as a result of their drug use. The World Health Organization Drug Report 2010 estimates that there are 16-38 million problem drug users in the world in 2008. This represents 10-15 per cent of total drug users in 2008. Sadly, less than 30 per cent of problem drug users received treatment during the same period.

Drug abuse is not unique to one or a number of different ethnic groups. It is not more likely to be faced by people of a particular cultural identity more than others. Drug users are often stereotyped into being people of particular ethnic groups which is a claim that is not based in any fact. The 2008 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse conducted in the United States reported that drug use was most prevalent amongst those who reported as identifying with two or more ethnic groups. This was 14.7 per cent of total population followed by African Americans (10 per cent), American Indians/Alaskan Natives (9.5 per cent), White Americans(8.2 per cent), Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders (7.3 per cent), Hispanics (6.2 per cent) and the lowest report amongst Asian Americans (3.6 per cent). Evidence from the United Kingdom suggests that drug abuse is lowest amongst those who identify with a minority ethnic group. Similar data was reported for the UK as for the USA with the highest reported ethnic group for drug users being those who identified as mixed ethnicity.