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Everywhere, under the rainbow: Ethnic minorities deal with substance abuse

It’s hard enough being in the racial minority. Many will tell of the pressure to perform better, work harder and behave with more “civilized” acquiescence than their Anglo counterparts. The American melting pot more often feels like the proverbial fishbowl: with curious eyes following your family’s every move and stereotyping pointed fingers tapping at the glass, looking for reaction.

So when a family member sinks into drug or alcohol addiction, it may come as no surprise that families of color express a more superlative chagrin, echoing the indignation of stigma, making clear the rest of the family is not one of “those people.”

“We never talked about it”

Those are sad, yet all-too-familiar words from a surviving cousin to a man who died from a drug overdose. A Stat News article goes into depth on the rigidity, denial and shame heavy in middle- and upper-class ethnic minority communities.

“It was kind of a Mexican pride thing, I guess. I mean, people already don’t want us here, so being a drug addict kind of makes it worse.”

The article goes on to share an African American perspective. “[Black families] don’t have funerals for those people … We cremate those people. You’re kicked out of the family for that behavior, and the family is often glad when [the addict dies] and it’s finally over.”

Elsewhere, in Middle Eastern cultures where women are allowed some privileges, but few rights: “Even so, until recently, the mere thought of women with substance abuse problems seemed unfathomable. Shame was incentive enough for most to hide their habit, making the problem even harder to address,” writes Jason Rezaian for The Washington Post.

Psychology Today tells of a Korean American man, who travailed to deactivate the time bomb of being cast as weak, losing “face” for his family and becoming socially unacceptable under the imminence of succumbing to his addiction.

“This is one cultural difference I see when Asian-American clients come in for counseling that’s significantly different from Caucasians without an ethnic or cultural identification. Seeking help for addictions, while praised and encouraged in mainstream American society is seen as a major umbrage to the Asian individual, family, and extended Asian community. It’s no wonder that when it comes to addictions, there is scant attention given to Asians.”

One Iranian woman who is recovering from meth addiction shares the same experience. “I want my parents to be proud of me again. They’ve abandoned me,” she says in the aforementioned Washington Post article.

Breaking through and the need for treatment

Part of eradicating stigma and stereotype involves reaching beyond insinuated barriers and grasping the many olive branches toward a life of wellness, of holistic liberation and healthful pursuit of happiness.

“They have all these ways of getting help, and we don’t know about them because we don’t want to accept that our kids are using. … But we need to come up with a way to voice this or more of them are going to overdose,” an Iraqi-American aunt said to a heroin overdose victim for Stat News.

Addiction totes the baggage of long-associated criminality, unemployment and violence – characteristics stereotypically ascribed to blacks, Latinos and immigrants of color.

The irony is, though the stigma over blacks and other minorities as being addicts or dealing drugs hangs like a target, “Addiction and subsequent overdose found their mark on minorities; [but] they are now firing at will on the white lower, middle and upper-class communities,” as mentioned in our previous article.

Families of color who have built successful careers, businesses and legacies for their children can make an intrinsic investment with a far greater return: obtaining individualized treatment for their loved one with addiction and mental health issues in one of Sovereign Health’s coastal or desert retreats.

We’re a nationwide trailblazer in residential treatment away from home, eTherapy in the privacy of your own quarters and several other flexible levels of care. No longer does a family have to exile a loved one who has fallen into addiction, leaving the person to his or her ill-coping devices. We utilize evidence-based, cutting-edge treatment as well as cathartic alternative therapies. Contact us, today.

About the author

Kristin Currin-Sheehan is a Sovereign Health staff writer and her intriguing storytelling has been featured with Sovereign Health, KPBS TV/FM, FOX5 News in San Diego and NPR. Her illustrative and relatable approach to digital and broadcast news bridges businesses and consumers, news and community. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author at

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