Addiction Among Different Races

Evaluating an Individual’s Treatment Needs
Addiction Among Different Races

The 2010 U.S. Census published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 36.3% of the US population was a part of an ethnic or racial minority, which often includes the following groups:

  • Asian American
  • Latino or Hispanic
  • African American or Black
  • Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander (NHOPI)
  • White or Caucasian
  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • Multiracial

In 2013, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) estimated that 21.6 million Americans, over age 11, abused or were dependent on drugs or alcohol. Different races may view substance abuse and treatment differently, and facilities offering care for mental health and substance abuse should therefore be culturally sensitive in order to provide optimal results.

SAMHSA publishes the following information on minority groups’ past-month (considered current) illicit drug abuse in 2014:

  • NHOPIs: 15.6%
  • American Indians and Alaska Natives: 14.9%
  • African Americans: 12.4%
  • National Average: 10.2%
  • Hispanics: 8.9%
  • Asian Americans: 4.1%

Substance Abuse among Minority Population

While about 60% of those admitted to publicly funded substance abuse treatment programs in 2008 were for white or Caucasian individuals, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that minority groups or people of color may suffer from substance abuse or mental health disorders at high rates part due to difficulties accessing care, the right kind of care not being available, and environmental, social, and financial concerns may be barriers to treatment.

Alcohol usage may be highest among Caucasians, with 57.7% reporting current alcohol consumption (or drinking alcohol in the past month), as published by the 2013 NSDUH. This was followed by multiracial individuals, or those of at least two races, at 47.7%; African Americans at 43.6%; Hispanics at 43%; NHOPIs at 38.4%; and American Indians or Alaska Natives at 37.3%. Asians drank the least in the past 30 days at a rate of 34.5% of the population.

Binge drinking is a pattern of potentially dangerous alcohol consumption that raises one’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g/dL or above, which usually means about four drinks for a woman or five for a man in a two-hour timespan.

Binge drinking rates for the different races in 2013 as indicated by NSDUH were as follows:

  • Different types of alcoholic beveragesNHOPIs: 24.7%
  • Hispanics: 24.1%
  • Whites: 24%
  • American Indians and Alaska Natives: 23.5%
  • Blacks: 20.1%
  • Multiracial individuals: 19.6%
  • Asian Americans: 12.4%

Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans

Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders tend to abuse substances at rates much higher than the national average and higher than other minority groups. This may be due to the fact that many live on islands that may have limited care available and depressed economics. In addition, easy and regular access to drugs and alcohol at a young age may be common, and NHOPIs may be less likely to seek healthcare than other population groups. According to the journal Public Health Reports, Asians and Pacific Islanders may abuse stimulant drugs more often than other ethnic groups, as these drugs are common in their cultures. These drugs may be affordable and easy to obtain.

Asian Americans seem to have the lowest rates of substance abuse; however, statistics may not paint a complete picture as this group may often be underrepresented in data models. Asian Americans may be considered a “model minority,” Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse publishes, even within its own ranks.

Drug or alcohol abuse may be viewed as aberrant or unusual to the culture, thereby stigmatizing substance-abusing individuals and potentially making it less likely that Asian Americans will seek treatment for addiction. Culture constraints may dictate that substance abuse and addiction is something to be handled within the family. Family dysfunction may be considered a private affair and not up for discussion publicly or even within the family, creating a potential social stigma that may act as a barrier to treatment, SAMHSA’s Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) reports.

American Indians and Alaskan Natives

Substance abuse in minority populations may be considered the result of acculturation, or the assimilation into a new culture. This can be the case for families or individuals who immigrate to America and begin to take on the characteristics of the new society. Stress related to the division between their native culture and American culture may increase the potential for substance abuse and dependency, Psychiatric Times publishes. Native American elders, for example, believe troubles with substance abuse occur when individuals lose connection to their culture and heritage. Individuals who are closely connected to both sets of cultural values have fewer difficulties with alcohol or drug concerns.

In 2010, Native Americans, according to SAMHSA, had the highest rate of drug-induced death of any other race or ethnic group at 17.1%. American Indians and Alaska Natives also have high rates of mental illness, with rates of co-occurring substance abuse or dependence and mental illness of 8.8% in the past year (based on 2014 data by SAMHSA). This is much higher than the national average of 3.3%. This racial minority group also had higher rates of young adult (those 15-24) suicide at levels 2.5 times those of the general population.

A general mistrust of outside healthcare providers and cultural differences may prevent American Indians and Alaskan Natives from seeking mental health and/or substance abuse treatment. This group tends to be less likely to enter into treatment programs and may instead focus on traditional healing methods, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports. More than a quarter of this ethnic population group lives in poverty as well, which is double the national average, according to NAMI. Increased access to care and holistic offerings may be helpful for treatment models when addressing this minority group.

African Americans and Hispanics

common tools used for substance abuseSubstance abuse and dependency may be more common in impoverished socioeconomic groups, people with less education, and those living in urban areas, as may involvement within the criminal justice system. Ethnic-minority groups may be likely to commit crimes as a result of drug abuse and are more likely than Caucasians to be mandated to substance abuse treatment in consequence, Psychiatric Services publishes.

Discrimination and social pressures may play a role in substance abuse within the black community. As a study published by Purdue University found that 90% of those surveyed reported daily discrimination, this is a cause for concern. Individuals within these communities and racial groups may feel that they have no choice or chance to improve their standings; they, therefore, may see substance abuse as natural and a part of everyday life.

Hispanics have a strong sense of family that may differ from the traditional American nuclear family. The Hispanic view of family is likely to include a large extended family and potentially even close family friends with the mentality that problems stay within that unit and may not be acknowledged publicly.

Hispanic culture places women in a special place as the matriarchs of the family unit and has strict sanctions against women drinking. Those born within the US or who immigrated at a young age may have higher rates of substance abuse than those born abroad or immigrating later in life, as the stress of acculturation and attempts to conform to a new society may increase drug and alcohol usage, SAMHSA’s TIP publishes.

Co-occurring mental health issues may also be common in this demographic, as 80% of Hispanic or Latina women in a substance abuse program who were surveyed reported childhood abuse and 76% had mental health concerns, TIP reports. Spirituality religion may be extremely important to the Hispanic and Latino community and may therefore be an important aspect to be considered during treatment and recovery.

Treatment Considerations

It is important not to generalize specific races as all needing the same thing, as each person is an individual. While certain considerations for particular cultures or ethnicities may be made, each person will respond to treatment differently and has unique needs for care and recovery. Professionals who are in tune with cultural beliefs and traditions can be beneficial in understanding what types of treatment may be best.

A person’s level of acculturation, spiritual and religious beliefs, and primary language are all factors to be considered and accommodated during treatment and recovery. Social stigmas may need to be carefully dispelled and cultural sensitivity is vital.

American Addiction Centers’ facilities like Sunrise House understand the need for personalized treatment plans. Some locations even offer translators if necessary. Call 973-862-4820 to learn more about what we can do for you or your loved one.


Regardless of a person’s gender, race, or age, treatment can improve a person’s quality of life. Help is always available.

Resources for treatment and recovery for substance abuse within specialty and the general population include:

  • The Asian Community Mental Health Services (ACMHS) is designed to help those in the Asian or Pacific Islander community improve their overall wellbeing by providing multilingual and multicultural resources that cater to the specific treatment needs of this cultural group.
  • Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) provides multilingual support for Asian Pacific Americans seeking behavioral or social services and provides information in 30 different languages.
  • Indian Health Service (IHS) is a federally funded program intended for American Indians and Alaskan Natives, with online resources and a treatment locator tool.
  • The Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) is an online resource dedicated to improving the overall health of young Native Americans with links to crisis hotlines and information regarding policies and advocacy measures.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a crisis hotline for individuals of any race, age, or gender to call and receive live professional help in their time of need.
  • SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator can help individuals find substance abuse and/or mental health services in a particular area by inputting a particular zip code and type of service desired. SAMHSA also provides a national helpline staffed 24/7 for confidential information available in English or Spanish.
  • The National Latino Behavioral Health Association (NLBHA) provides a wealth of behavioral health resources and programs for Latino Americans.
  • The National Resource Center for Hispanic Mental Health is a private and nonprofit organization designed to improve access for Hispanics to receive mental health services and remove disparities to care that may exist.
  • The Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Center for Excellence and Health (HBCU-CEH) offers information on improving student behavioral health and supporting preventative treatment and collaborative care.
  • Black Women’s Health is a resource center for African American females with information on improving both physical and mental health.
  • The S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health (OMH) is a resource for all minority ethnic groups in America, with intentions to improve and facilitate healthcare for all American people.
  • The National Council on Drug Dependence and Alcoholism, Inc. (NCAAD) provides information on drug and alcohol abuse, prevention methods, education, and treatment resources for families and individuals.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a spiritually based organization with many different chapters and meeting types. AA is based on a 12-Step model and the fellowship of like individuals acting as a peer support and recovery network. Meeting are held all over the country.
  • Mental Health Gov provides confidential and complimentary crisis hotline numbers individuals can call in case of a mental health emergency. It is operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
  • The Poison Help Line connects individuals to one of the American Association of Poison Control Centers to help in the case of toxic exposure to drugs, alcohol, or other substances.

About The Contributor
Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff, American Addiction Centers
The editorial staff of Sunrise House is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands... Read More