Racial disparities in alcohol and substance misuse

September is National Recovery Month.

September 26, 2020, 4:46 PM

This report is part of "Turning Point," a groundbreaking series by ABC News examining the racial reckoning sweeping the United States and exploring whether it can lead to lasting reconciliation.

September is National Recovery Month. Every September for the last 31 years, organizations across the country educate Americans about substance use disorders, mental health treatment and service options available to help in the recovery process. Patty McCarthy is the CEO of Faces & Voices of Recovery, an organization that helps Americans achieve long-term recovery through its advocacy efforts.

McCarthy, who has been in recovery for over thirty years, said that every year, the organization launches a theme for National Recovery Month. This year's theme is Join The Voices for Recovery, Celebrating Connections, McCarthy told the ABC News "Perspective" podcast.

"We know that we can't do it alone. So that's why the theme of celebrating connections is so important, especially right now during COVID-19, when connecting with people has become a whole new challenge when we're not able to visit with people in person or attend our usual gatherings to support recovery."

Listen to the full interview with Patty McCarthy:

Martine Hackett is an associate professor in the master of public health and community health programs at Hofstra University. Hackett told the "Perspective" podcast that racial disparities can make it more difficult for minorities to get the help they need to recover from substance misuse.

"Some of these barriers that minorities face when it comes to identifying help have to do with even their perceived need for treatment," said Hackett.

Hackett said it is important to recognize that they might not want to have help from official means and might be more comfortable receiving that assistance from family, friends or religious organizations instead.

Hackett said trauma and racial tensions also play a role in how alcohol and drugs can be used as coping mechanisms.

"Concepts around trauma and the experiences of trauma, particularly at an early age, might make people more susceptible to addiction. There's research that talks about the stressors of racism and how those stressors can cause behaviors that people reach to be able to deal with those stressors," Hackett said.

Another challenge that minorities might face is access to behavioral health services. Hackett said Native Americans are particularly afflicted by substance misuse.

"[Native Americans] have a higher rate of addiction, but they also have a lower rate of recovery and being able to seek recovery," said Hackett.

McCarthy said that recognizing the language and terminology used when referring to those in recovery is an important step not only to help with the process, but to humanize their struggles.

"We no longer use words like addict. We no longer use the word drug abuse. We have to remember that these are our family, friends, sons and daughters. We have shifted to person-first language, such as a person with a substance use disorder," McCarthy said.

PHOTO: In this undated file photo, a nurse holds a patient's hand.
In this undated file photo, a nurse holds a patient's hand.
Terry Vine/Getty Images, FILE

The stigma that many associate with those in recovery can make it more difficult for many to seek help. This is especially true for minority communities.

"There are certain ways that different cultures view addiction," said Hackett. "People might not feel comfortable being able to even admit that they have a problem."

Resources are available at Faces & Voices of Recovery's website for National Recovery Month and beyond. More information about how the month is celebrated can be found at nationalrecoverymonth.org.

"Recovery is a journey," said McCarthy. "We want a path to a better future."

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