BIPOC Addiction Resources

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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What You Need to Know About Addiction in the BIPOC Community

Ease of access to personalized health care is essential for those of every background. But some disparities make it even more difficult for members of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) community, especially when it comes to substance abuse treatment. BIPOC individuals often face unique challenges when seeking help from the medical community for mental health issues and addiction. Being aware of these challenges BIPOC individuals face and addressing systemic obstacles is essential for ensuring everyone who needs mental health and substance abuse treatment has fair access to effective treatment options.

How Addiction Impacts BIPOC Community

Addiction and mental health are topics not often discussed in BIPOC communities. This creates yet another barrier for those who would seek substance abuse treatment. Both mental health and addiction post impact BIPOC individuals in unique ways.

BIPOC Mental Health Needs Left Unaddressed

Most ethnic or racial minority groups experience similar mental health conditions like the white community. However, they are far less likely to receive mental health treatment. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recently disclosed the results of research which indicated only about 30% of Hispanic and Black people receive the mental health services they need. More alarming was that only a little over 20% of Asian people got the mental health services they needed.

Lack of Cultural Understanding by Counselors and Health Care Providers Leads to Mis- or Under-diagnoses

To build trust, respect, and understanding, health care must be culturally aware. As the US becomes even more diverse, the lack of cultural competency in the health care sector grows. This leads to problems with diagnosis and even negative health outcomes for members of ethnically and racially diverse populations. There are a few primary factors contributing to the BIPOC community receiving lower-quality health care. These include:

  • Patient and provider language differences
  • Mental illness stigma among minority groups
  • Cultural differences in how symptoms are discussed and presented
  • Lack of culturally competent health care providers and BIPOC mental health providers

Racism and BIPOC Mental Health

People of color are often treated differently just because of the color of their skin. Many deal with fear on a daily basis. They are traumatized from seeing numerous viral videos of police altercations and interactions involving men and women of color. These are just a few of the issues that plague American communities of color. The situation is exacerbated by the lack of access to proper mental health care.

Recently, depression has been widely reported as the single most common health concern among all minorities. Some of the most recent stats pertaining to racism and the BIPOC community are alarming.

  • Puerto Ricans experience the highest depression rate among Hispanic groups, with a rate of 40%. Other Hispanic groups ranged between 30 and 35% who suffer from depression.
  • Almost one-third of those in black communities suffer from depression nationwide.
  • Alaskan Native Americans and American Indian populations report depression rates nearly 10% more than white populations. Other Pacific Islander groups also suffer depression about 15% more than white populations.

The lack of culturally appropriate care may potentially result in worse outcomes than those who fail to seek help, to begin with. Not only do we need to make sure people of color have access to adequate mental health care, but it’s also imperative that health professionals be culturally equipped, non-judgmental, empathetic, and understanding of the cultural needs of patients. This is necessary to ensure proper diagnosis of BIPOC mental health conditions so individual needs can be addressed and treated.

Common Barriers to Addiction Treatment for People of Color

Drug and alcohol abuse in the US has skyrocketed, and it seems it has been fueled by the pandemic in recent years as people tried to cope. Withdrawal from drugs and alcohol can pose life-threatening conditions for people who do not have access to quality treatment or a social safety net. Risk factors are increased for people of non-white racial and ethnic backgrounds. They share common risk factors such as early exposure to drug and alcohol use, co-occurring mental illness, and a family history of substance abuse. Just as alarming is the fact that BIPOC communities, particularly those from low-income families, experience disparities in access to addiction treatment when compared to their white counterparts. Some of the most common factors that influence this disparity include:

  • Racial bias
  • Stigma in BIPOC communities
  • Inadequate finances and/or lack of health insurance
  • Disproportionate criminalization of drug and alcohol use in BIPOC communities

Non-what populations are not as likely to be referred to addiction treatment. They are more likely to be forced into the criminal justice system for drug use and drug-related crimes. And they are far less likely to have the financial resources needed to pay for addiction treatment on their own.

The Need for Systemic Change

The need for systemic, nationwide change cannot be overstated and can not come soon enough. The lack of access to mental health and addiction treatment services affects whole communities. In reality, it affects us all. Being aware of the disparities and gaps is the first step toward helping the BIPOC community get the help they deserve and need.

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