Addiction has an impact on everyone and anyone. Addiction certainly does not discriminate. It does not matter if someone was born rich or poor. It does not matter where someone grew up, or what their religious beliefs are. Family history does not matter, either. And race does not matter when it comes to substance abuse and treatment. Or, at least it shouldn’t. But unfortunately, we live in a society where the war on drugs has resulted in extremely unfair outcomes across different races. Not only does racism affect treatment, it often is a catapult in fueling addictions in the first place.

Addiction Doesn’t Discriminate


There are people of all walks of life who have struggled with addiction to substances. Many of them found a way to recovery. However, through cultural and social contexts, treatment can be impacted. The consequences of drug use and addiction can be affected as well – they get more severe in cases. And the manifestation of addiction is certainly affected by racism.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance:

“The drug war has produced profoundly unequal outcomes across racial groups, manifested through racial discrimination by law enforcement and disproportionate drug war misery suffered by communities of color.”

What is Racism?

Racism is defined by the Anti-Defamation League as “the belief that a particular race is superior or inferior to another, that a person’s social and moral traits are predetermined by his or her inborn biological characteristics.” Racism impacts many psychological aspects of a person’s life. It can affect one’s self-worth as well as their relationships with their family, friends, and peers. Compound all of this with a substance abuse problem, and treatment may seem hopeless.

Racism and Drug Use

According to the Drug Policy Alliance:

  • African Americans comprise 14% of regular drug users, but are 37% of those arrested for drug offenses.
  • African Americans serve almost as much time in federal prison for a drug offense as whites do for a violent offense.

Law enforcement generally focuses on low-income areas. This perpetuates the biased idea that people of color who are poor are also drug users. Meanwhile, police turn a blind eye to drug use in upper class white neighborhoods.

Also according to the Drug Policy Alliance:

“Higher arrest and incarceration rates for African Americans and Latinos are not reflective of increased prevalence of drug use or sales in these communities, but rather of a law enforcement focus on urban areas, on lower-income communities and on communities of color as well as inequitable treatment by the criminal justice system.”

Intervention Help California on racism and drug abuse:

 “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHSS) announced in a study in 2003 that drug abuse is high among minority teens due to low self-esteem, lack of family pride or deviant peer associations. Many of these are directly or indirectly caused by racism. Race may also play a role in drug choice. According to the same 2003 study alcohol is the leading addiction among minority teens, followed by cocaine and marijuana.”

Stereotypes and Addiction


Stereotypes are generally made about addicts. The media is to blame for many of these preconceived notions. Society makes certain assumptions about races, and this racism affects the use of drugs. In reality, there is no difference in substance abuse use among races. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services‘ 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that drug use was 10.7 percent for African-Americans, 9.1 for Whites, and 8.1 percent for Latinos.

Drug use and sales occur across all racial lines. But police are far more likely to stop, search, arrest, and incarcerate people of color than white people. In many cases, incarceration is an obstacle that hinders the receiving of true treatment. The penalties from a drug conviction can lead to serious consequences that can affect your life for years. In some cases, people cannot vote, get public assistance, and much more. Some of the consequences can be life-long. This is due to the stigma attached to drug convictions and racism.

Many people focus on low-income communities when they talk about addiction. But the truth is that substance abuse occurs in well-to-do neighborhoods areas. It’s just that they pretend not to notice their own addictions. This does nothing but perpetuates denial while keeping their addiction going. Racism causes unimaginable stress to victims.  It can play a huge factor in why someone begins abusing drugs or alcohol. They may be feeling self-loathing or suffer from depression. Victimization causes people to want to self-medicate.

Drug Addiction Treatment Options


We know how difficult it is to ask for help, much less admit that you have a substance abuse problem. Add racism as a factor and you probably feel like you are alone. Regardless of the racism that exists in this country and in this world, you should know that help is available. Regardless of your race or ethnic background, you deserve compassionate

Understanding how racism can affect treatment is crucial to those who want to help addicts get the compassionate help that they need. After all, we are all human beings. And we deserve compassion, no matter what is on the outside. Inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment options are available to all who seek help regardless of race. Do not allow racism to affect your search for professional help from caring individuals.  We can help you to bring positive changes in your life, so contact us today.

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