The Effects of Racism on Addiction and Recovery

on Sunday, 24 May 2015. Posted in Breaking News

Addiction is something that affects people from every walk of life imaginable. Rich or poor, urban or rural, and within every religion, ethnicity, and race imaginable, there are people who have struggled with addiction, and found a way to recovery.

Research on people who engage in habits of substance abuse or addiction often differ wildly from popular stereotypes. Addiction can happen to anyone, but social and cultural context can impact the way an addiction gets manifested, the severity of the consequences of addictive behavior, and the ease getting access to treatment.

It is an unfortunate reality that different racial groups in U.S. society are divided from each other, with social inequalities and privileges denied on the basis of skin color. Thus, while all racial groups include people struggling with addiction or working toward recovery, racism can have an impact on the addiction and recovery process.

Understanding these factors is a vitally important part of seeking to help all addicts get the quality of care and compassion they need and deserve as human beings.

Unequal enforcement of laws

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that the rate of illicit drug use among members of different racial groups. It reported 10.7 percent for African-Americans, 9.1 for Whites, and 8.1 percent for Latinos, showing no dramatic difference in drug use among any racial group.

However, Latinos and African-Americans are much more likely than Whites to be stopped, searched, and arrested for drug possession. Illegal drug use happens in every neighborhood, at every socio-economic level, but law enforcement usually focuses the bulk of their attention on low-income urban neighborhoods, reflecting an untrue social bias that poor people are color are more likely to be drug users. Drugs used by whites are often more likely to go unnoticed.

Once such law that appeared to be crafted out of this view was the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, identical substances except that crack is much cheaper. Even though identical substances, crack sometimes had a sentencing disparity of 100:1, meaning that an addict would have to have 100 grams of cocaine to receive the same amount of time in jail as 1 gram baked into a smokeable rock.

Fortunately, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 corrected this disparity, so cocaine in all its forms was penalized more equally.

This unequal enforcement of drug laws means that people of color are more likely to be incarcerated for their drug abuse problems. Incarceration frequently wrecks havoc on people's lives, and gets in the way of a compassionate program that would truly give treatment from the disease of addiction.

Many cities and states are seeking to change this by providing access to recovery programs as an alternative to more jail time, allowing people to truly receive life-changing treatment for their disease instead of merely being punished for their crime. Stereotypes of drug users also harm members of more affluent communities, as it causes those people to turn a blind eye towards their own substance abuse and addiction issues, furthering a sense of denial that sustains addictive behavior.

Stresses of victimization

Racisms itself also creates stress and serotypes that can precipitate drug abuse and addiction. Ongoing bullying, harassment or discrimination creates a great deal of stress that can sometimes be internalized in forms of self-hatred, depression, or PTSD.

Racial prejudice and structural racism also impacts minorities as they look for work or seek financial stability. These stresses can create a powerful incentive to self-medicate, causing people to turn to alcohol or drugs as a way of dealing with these stresses.

The aforementioned stereotypes rooted in cultural racism can also get internalized and create a form of peer pressure, so a member of a particular community might be led to believe that everyone around him or her is getting high. Treating young people like criminals often sets up expectations for them to live up to, but allowing them to feel respected and encouraged will make them more likely to avoid drug use.

Regardless of your race or background, you should know that help recovering from your addition is available. You may feel alone, but there are many people and resources able to encourage you and help you make this positive change in your life.


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