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Discrimination is a strong trigger for substance abuse

Posted on 01-28-2016 Posted in Drug Abuse, Substance Abuse - 0 Comments

Ask an addict what led them to drugs, you’ll hear as many kinds of answers as there are addicts.

Escape. Boredom. Self-medication. It made the voices stop for a while.

But there’s another reason which can send people into the spiral of addiction: Discrimination. Nobody likes to be made to feel like a second-class citizen and for people habitually singled out for harassment at work, in school or by the authorities, substances can seem like a coping mechanism.

It isn’t – it’s just another gateway into the downward spiral of addiction, arrest, imprisonment … and upon release, addiction again.

Links between discrimination and addiction

It’s worth pointing out racial and social discrimination seems to play a powerful role in substance abuse.

A 2013 study from the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the West Virginia University School of Public Health along with San Diego State University’s Graduate School of Public Health analyzed data from a 2001 study of 3,105 interviews of black, Latino and white adults living in Chicago. Seventeen percent of the respondents said they used one or more illicit substances and/or pharmaceutical drugs, with marijuana being the most common.

The respondents who said they experienced moderate to high levels of discrimination daily reported on average abusing more drugs than those who experienced low levels of discrimination. Study author Haslyn Hunte, Ph.D, told “Mental health and substance abuse providers should consider treating experiences of unfair treatment/discrimination as a risk factor for drug use as they do other experiences of stress, such as the death of a loved one. They should also not assume discrimination is only a problem for racial/ethnic minorities.”

Race also plays a role in arrest and incarceration for crimes involving drugs. Bureau of Justice data from 2012 showed blacks made up 45 percent of the people serving time in state prisons for drug offenses in 2011 – whites made up 30 percent. Meanwhile, a 2011 survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration showed higher percentages of whites used cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana and other drugs than blacks did.

Being behind bars doesn’t help

Prison’s certainly no place for a drug addict. As most ex-cons know, obtaining drugs in prison is far from impossible. According to the National Institute on Drug Addiction, only 15 percent of state prisoners and 17 percent of federal prisoners took part in drug treatment programs with a trained professional. A 2010 report from Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse said 65 percent of all prison inmates in the U.S. met the medical criteria for substance abuse, with only 11 percent receive treatment.

Fortunately, there’s been some good news for drug users behind bars – the U.S. seems to be slowly rethinking its approach to drug sentencing, with attempts at sentence reduction for those convicted with drug charges.

Still, there needs to be far greater social changes in how people treat each other. Discrimination on racial, economic and identity lines appears to be far more damaging than face value.

Sovereign Health of Florida is a leading health care provider for mental health disorders. If you or a loved one is dealing with depression, anxiety or another condition impacting your quality of life, contact our 24/7 helpline now. Our treatment professionals can give you more information on your condition and treatment options. We tailor our treatment to individuals for lasting success. A happier life can start today.

Written by Brian Moore, Sovereign Health Group writer

For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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