From the way people drive or how much they tip at restaurants to the kind of food they like to eat, it’s no secret that stereotypes can affect the way we view others. Unfortunately, stereotypes are based on long-held, inaccurate generalizations that have little to do with reality. For example, what comes to mind when you picture a typical drug or alcohol addict?
Is the person you’re imagining wealthy or poor? Black or white? Young or old? No matter what you’re picturing, you would be mistaken to assume that this image represents the entire population of people struggling with addiction. While substance abuse and addiction affects certain demographic populations at different rates, everyone is vulnerable.
Every year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducts a national survey on drug use and health. In the survey, the government looks for trends, statistics and insights into how substance abuse is impacting our population. Race and ethnicity is just one of many factors the government considers when conducting the survey and analyzing results. So, what does the survey actually tell us about the relationship between addiction and race? The results may surprise you.
According to the survey, certain minority populations are actually among the least likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. On the other end of the spectrum, the two populations with the highest rates of substance abuse probably aren’t what you thought they were at all. Let’s take a look at what the survey found from lowest to highest rate of drug use by race and ethnicity.
• Asians – 4.1%
• Hispanics – 8.9%
• Caucasian/Whites – 11.3%
• African Americans – 12.4%
• American Indians & Alaska Natives – 14.9%
• Native Hawaiians & Pacific Islanders – 15.6%
It would be easy to look at this list and jump to the conclusion that American Indians are simply hard-wired for substance abuse. Or, that people of Asian descent, for the most part, don’t need to worry as much about becoming addicted. But, a person’s race does not directly cause addiction to drugs or alcohol. It doesn’t even necessarily make someone more likely to become addicted in the first place.
Instead of thinking about race as a determining factor in drug addiction, consider the impact of belonging to a minority population that is largely marginalized by society. Would you still have access to the same mental health services? Quality education? What about a job that pays enough to support yourself or your family?
Environmental factors like these and others have far more to do with substance abuse and addiction than your race. As a society, if we let inaccurate stereotypes influence our approach to fighting substance abuse, we’re taking away attention from the populations who really do need more help. We’re also making it more difficult for people who don’t fit the racial stereotype of an addict to seek treatment.
Almost every age group is affected by substance use disorders, although some age ranges do experience higher addiction rates than others. Factors that may cause a teenager to become addicted are not necessarily the same factors that might cause an older adult to develop a chemical dependency. In this section, we’ll explore common factors that drive the substance abuse rate in both age groups.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), young people moving into adulthood exhibit high rates of substance abuse. There are many well-documented reasons for this:
Modeling Parents Behavior: Young people who grow up with parents who abuse drugs or alcohol are more likely to do the same.
Curiosity & Boredom: Many young people report experimenting with alcohol and other drugs out of sheer curiosity or boredom.
Self-Medication: Like adults, teens know that drugs and alcohol can provide temporary relief from emotional pain, lack of concentration, racing mind, lack of interest or anxiety.
Peer Pressure: Perhaps more so than any other age group, young people are commonly influenced by strong feelings of desire to fit in with their friends.
SAMHSA also reports that drug and alcohol abuse in adults, specifically those in their 50s and early 60s, is increasing. This could be partly attributed to the aging boomer population, which has historically used drugs at a higher rate than previous generations.
Like young people entering adulthood, people entering their retirement years may face a similarly challenging transitional period that could lead to increased stress, anxiety and depression. Situations such as dealing with new health problems, financial stress, or losing close friends and loved ones can all lead older adults to turn to alcohol or drugs for temporary relief.
Although this age group experiences substance abuse at a lower rate than young people, loved ones should stay alert for the warning signs of substance abuse. Warnings signs of drug abuse in older adults can include the following:
• Unexplainable changes in sleep patterns or appetite
• Sudden increase in falling
• Changing physicians often or “doctor shopping” to obtain additional medications
• New onset irritability, agitation or unusual states of confusion
• Appearance of empty liquor bottles
While no socioeconomic class is immune to addiction, this doesn’t mean it affects all classes equally. In fact, research shows that substance abuse is more prevalent among individuals of a lower economic status. But, it would be a mistake to assume that wealth, or the lack thereof, somehow causes people to abuse drugs or alcohol and become addicted.
The truth is, addiction and wealth are not directly linked at all. To understand the connection, we have to consider the real-world consequences of poverty and privilege. For example, families of limited financial means may not have access to quality education or healthcare services. Unable to afford the care they need, people in this environment could be more likely to remain undiagnosed and to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.
On the other end of the spectrum, wealthy families typically have ample access to professional medical care. Their children also usually attend better schools and stay in school longer. Both of these environmental factors could be correlated with a decreased risk of substance abuse and addiction.
Financial access to education and healthcare resources does not necessarily preclude a wealthy family from addiction. In fact, at least one study found that affluent children could be even more susceptible to drug abuse and addiction. One possible explanation? Wealthy families can afford to shoulder the expense of multiple DUIs, court costs, insurance hikes, property damage and even personal injuries.
Another explanation is that some families feel strong pressure to maintain an appearance of perfection, choosing to deny the problem exists instead of seeking help.
Race and ethnicity doesn’t do not protect us from addiction any more than it causes us to become addicted. Likewise, we can’t assume that substance abuse is strictly a young person’s problem. And, when it comes to economic status, studies show that all social classes feel the impact of addiction.
At The Raleigh House, we understand the true environmental, genetic and behavioral health factors that contribute to addiction. That’s why we offer our residents a comprehensive drug rehab program that helps people from all walks of life find the long-lasting recovery they deserve. To learn more about our comprehensive addiction treatment program, our family-focused approach and our payment options, call us today! We are here to help.