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  • Writer's pictureKristin Bassi

Exploring Substance Use Disorders in African American Communities: A Black History Month Reflection



As we dive into the heart of Black History Month, let’s take a moment to explore the intricate dance between substance use disorders (SUDs) and the unique challenges faced by African American communities. Here at NJ Recovery & Wellness, our goal is to offer a genuine understanding of these challenges and provide culturally sensitive approaches in tackling substance use disorders. Drawing inspiration from recent research, including a noteworthy article from JAMA Psychiatry, let’s embark on a journey to unravel the complexities surrounding substance use in African American populations.


Better Understanding Substance Use Disparities:

The insightful piece from JAMA Psychiatry, (Jegede et al., 2024), sheds light on disparities in substance use disorders across different racial and ethnic groups, emphasizing the need for tailored interventions. African American communities grapple with unique challenges, such as historical trauma, systemic racism, and economic inequalities, all contributing to higher rates of substance use disorders, among other behavioral health concerns.


The JAMA Psychiatry article introduces a critical distinction between health inequality and health inequities. While health inequalities refer to specific differences resulting in poor outcomes among socially disadvantaged people, health inequities are disparities arising from structurally unjust policies or practices.


One notable health inequity mentioned in the article involves access to buprenorphine and naloxone. According to another JAMA Psychiatry study that is cited within the first one, (Lagisetty et al., 2019), Black and Latinx individuals are less likely to have access to these medications compared to their white, middle-class counterparts. Additionally, methadone is more likely to be prescribed to these populations, highlighting a significant disparity in substance use disorder treatment.


African American communities grapple with unique challenges, such as historical trauma, systemic racism, and economic inequalities, all contributing to higher rates of substance use disorders, among other behavioral health concerns.

The Role of Co-Occurring Disorders:

Recognizing the interconnected nature of mental health and substance use disorders, our clinicians at NJ Recovery & Wellness understand that a comprehensive approach is required. Substance use disorders often co-occur with mental health issues, demanding a nuanced therapeutic strategy. By addressing both aspects, we aim to provide comprehensive care, acknowledging the complexity of these challenges.


Historical Trauma and Substance Use:

Historical factors, such as systemic racism and historical trauma, can contribute to coping mechanisms involving substance use. Our therapists recognize the importance of a trauma-informed approach to uncover and heal the roots of these issues.


Cultural Humility in Treatment:

At NJRAW, our team of seasoned therapists understands that effective therapy requires cultural humility. Previously referred to as cultural competence, the professional community by-in-large has been shifting their language to that of humility, endeavoring to recognize that it is nearly impossible for one to be fully competent in any and every form of culture, as our current understanding of the applications of culture are far more expansive than in previous generations. Celebrating diversity, and highlighting our clients as being the experts in their own cultural experience, we ensure our therapists are attuned to the specific experiences and needs of African American clients, and all other clients from minority or marginalized backgrounds, creating an environment where trust and openness can flourish during sessions.


Barriers to Treatment and Access:

Addressing barriers to substance use disorder treatment is a key focus at NJ Recovery & Wellness. Accessibility to care is one of our values. Actively working to break down these barriers, we offer accessible services, spread awareness about available resources, and collaborate with community organizations to make care more available.


Harm Reduction as a Tool for Racial Equality:

The JAMA Psychiatry article, (Jegede et al., 2024), also points out the importance of harm reduction, and how it can be used as a tool for achieving racial equality in substance use disorder treatment. By acknowledging that individuals may not be ready or able to abstain completely from substance use, harm reduction aims to minimize the negative consequences. This approach is especially important in achieving racial equality by ensuring that treatment strategies are flexible, understanding the unique needs and contexts of individuals from different backgrounds.


By acknowledging that individuals may not be ready or able to abstain completely from substance use, harm reduction aims to minimize the negative consequences.

Breaking the Stigma:

Stigma is like a stubborn wall standing in the way of seeking help for substance use disorders, and we’re all about breaking down those barriers. Part of our mission at NJ Recovery & Wellness is to reduce the stigma for those with mental health and substance use disorders. Through this blog and our community outreach efforts, we're on a mission to break the stigma surrounding addiction. We want to create a space for open conversations and understanding, so individuals can seek help without carrying the weight of judgment.


Empowering Through Education:

Education is crucial in addressing substance use disparities. Our blog is a platform to spread information about the impact of substance use. We hope to provide resources and empower individuals to make informed decisions about their mental health and well-being.


 

As we navigate through Black History Month, we're taking a look into the challenges faced by African American communities, including the complexities of substance use disorders. Here at NJ Recovery & Wellness, we're committed to providing care that's culturally comprehensive, especially when it comes to co-occurring disorders. By embracing cultural humility, tearing down barriers to treatment, and actively engaging with the community, we’re pushing for a future where everyone, regardless of background, has equal access to quality care. Together, let’s honor Black history by working towards a mental health landscape that's inclusive, supportive, and truly for all.


If you or a loved one would benefit from support, wellness is within reach. Our diverse team at NJ Recovery & Wellness welcomes a conversation. Reach out today.


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