Updated on March 26, 2024
6 min read

Addiction in BIPOC Communities: Causes, Risks, and Culturally-Sensitive Care

The BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) community often faces unique challenges when seeking help for addiction. The root of these challenges can arguably be traced back to systemic racism.

Systemic racism can lead to a lack of culturally sensitive healthcare, stigma within BIPOC communities, and a crueler criminalization of addiction. These all create significant barriers to treatment, creating a more prolific environment for substance addiction among people of color.

Racism’s Effects on Addiction & Treatment for BIPOC

To help people of color receive effective addiction treatment, we need a comprehensive approach that is culturally sensitive and addresses root causes.

Racism is a systemic barrier. It creates interconnected challenges that contribute to the prevalence of addiction in the BIPOC community, such as a higher risk of poverty, unemployment, and limited educational opportunities.

Systemic racism also creates frustrating barriers when seeking addiction treatment. It can manifest as unfair treatment, lack of understanding or bedside manner, and deep-rooted mistrust of medical institutions.

The Effects of Racism on BIPOC’s Mental Health

The psychological effects of racism and historical trauma can significantly damage people’s mental health. It can cause depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other stress-related disorders.

Stress is one of the driving factors of addiction. It can potentially lead BIPOC to use substances as a way to cope with trauma and escape the reality of ongoing bias and oppression.

BIPOC communities are also often targeted by tobacco and alcohol companies, increasing exposure and availability of addictive substances.

The War on Drugs and Its Effects on BIPOC

Drug policies have disproportionately incarcerated BIPOC for drug-related offenses. This criminalization makes asking for help seem dangerous. It also adds to the stigma of addiction, making it even harder for people of color to admit they need help.

Discrimination can lead to BIPOC losing their jobs or fearing the possibility of it happening. Even if given the chance to rehabilitate, losing financial stability greatly affects their ability to pay for addiction treatment.

Cultural Stigma in the BIPOC Community

Admitting to addiction or mental health struggles can carry negative associations within some BIPOC communities because of cultural beliefs and attitudes. These include the practice of valuing resilience and self-reliance.

It’s also common for BIPOC communities to avoid openly talking about mental health conditions and addiction. This practice creates a stigma that prevents people from acknowledging their addiction and seeking the support they need to recover.

The Lack of BIPOC Representation

Many BIPOC communities lack access to specialists who can prescribe life-saving medication-assisted treatment (MAT) options. Having few BIPOC mental health and addiction professionals can also make it hard for people to feel understood and culturally safe.

This lack of trust further hinders access to appropriate care, preventing people from recovering from addiction. That’s why there’s an urgent need for addiction programs led by providers who understand the unique experiences and cultures of BIPOC patients.

What Do BIPOC Need for Addiction Treatment?

To address the disparities in BIPOC addiction treatment, we need to promote culturally competent care and advocate for policies prioritizing treatment over punishment.

More BIPOC mental health professionals are needed to build trust and provide culturally informed care. Affordable treatment should also become more accessible. This includes addressing insurance barriers and making MAT more readily available.

Education campaigns are also vital within BIPOC communities and the healthcare system to remove shame and increase understanding of addiction.


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Are There Treatment Options Specific to BIPOC Communities?

People of color go through uniquely stressful situations that their white counterparts can’t really understand, highlighting a need for treatment options specific to the BIPOC community.

While there are a lot more improvements needed in the healthcare system, existing treatment options can help significantly with recovery and maintaining sobriety:

  • Culturally sensitive treatment centers: Often have therapists and staff who are also BIPOC and understand the unique experiences of racism and discrimination
  • BIPOC support groups and programs: Communities designed specifically for BIPOC facing addiction
  • Inpatient rehab: Offers 24/7 medical support and intensive therapy within a structured environment for more severe addictions or complicated situations
  • Outpatient treatment: Allow you to receive treatment while maintaining some of your everyday routine
  • Telehealth services: Removes barriers like transportation and limited access to addiction specialists
  • Community partnerships: Organizations focused on supporting underserved communities, including BIPOC populations

If a lack of funds is the problem, there are treatment centers and telehealth options offering sliding-scale fees. The SAMHSA National Helpline also provides free and confidential support 24/7.

It’s important to remember that there is no single "right" path to recovery. Working with a treatment provider, you can discover the options that best suit your needs and circumstances.

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Statistics of Addiction for BIPOC Communities

BIPOC communities face stark disparities in substance use and mental health compared to the general population. These statistics underscore the urgent need for understanding the complex factors contributing to addiction and mental health challenges within these communities:

Black or African American

  • 24.3% used illicit drugs in the past year
  • 21.3% used marijuana in the past year
  • 17.2% had a substance use disorder in the past year

American Indian or Alaska Native

  • 36.1% used illicit drugs in the past year
  • 35.0% used marijuana in the past year
  • 27.6% had a substance use disorder in the past year
  • 28.7% needed substance use treatment in the past year

Hispanic or Latino

  • 19.4% used illicit drugs in the past year
  • 15.8% used marijuana in the past year
  • 15.7% had a substance use disorder in the past year

Mental Health of Black or African American People

  • 21.4% of adults had any mental illness in the past year
  • 4.3% of adults had serious mental illness in the past year

Mental Health of Hispanic or Latino People

  • 20.7% of adults had any mental illness in the past year
  • 5.1% of adults had serious mental illness in the past year

Resources for BIPOC Communities

BIPOC seeking help for mental health and addiction have access to a growing number of resources specifically designed to support them. Here's where to find help:

Therapist Directories:

Financial Assistance:

Support Groups:

  • Fireweed Collective Support Groups: Spaces for connection and support focused on various life experiences
  • BIPOC Chronic Pain Support Group (Online): Virtual support for BIPOC folks living with chronic pain.
  • Virtual BIPOC Support for Eating Disorders (Online): Support and resources for People of Color facing eating disorders.

Crisis Support:

More Resources:

It's important to remember that there's no shame in seeking help. These resources exist to empower BIPOC communities to prioritize mental health and wellness.

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Updated on March 26, 2024
12 sources cited
Updated on March 26, 2024

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