Cross Cultural Recovery

Riley Kidd

By Riley Kidd

How does recovery relate to all individuals with regard to substance use disorders? I have seen here in Jackson, MI, that a very small percentage of the minority population has not been able to relate to recovery, let alone the addiction that comes beforehand. I have seen that a lot of the focus of treatment has been on the opioid and meth situation but much of what affects the other population is either ignored or caregivers don’t have an understanding of how to approach it. 

National studies in the United States indicate that African Americans and Hispanic individuals have shorter lengths of stay in substance use disorder (SUD) treatment than non-Hispanic Caucasians and are less likely to complete treatment successfully.  However, these disparities are significantly smaller or are eliminated entirely when programs apply culturally proficient practices.  Retention in treatment has been shown to be significantly better, for example, in programs that cultivate linkages and resources in minority communities, implement policies and procedures (such as bilingual services) to better serve the ethnic minority individuals, match clients to service providers with similar cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and ensure that all staff, including managers and supervisors, attend culturally sensitivity trainings and harbor culturally sensitive beliefs and values.

There are many barriers that minorities, blacks/African Americans, face, which is the reason that the whole being must be treated. 

If you ask some of those who are of this minority population why they are not focused on being sober or in recovery the response is often, “How can I be focused on that while I’m dealing with other things, such as the system and its rules of oppression, fatherlessness, my surroundings, child support, historical factors, traumatic issues, or systemic racism?” Often the only way they know how to cope with these factors is to use drugs and/or alcohol.

The historical factor goes back to the crack epidemic where there was an over-representation of young African American males coming into our criminal justice system. 

We saw criminogenic behavior as well as substance use disorder on a wide level, some extremely high-dependency issues and some relatively moderate dependency too. So now we have to work with a population that doesn’t really want to be there: black men. There is no motivation for change because there is no change they believe that needs to take place. Mostly the men are ambivalent; they don’t care, are resistant, and lack the drive to do anything beyond what they are used to doing. Yet we try to use the same treatment measures or recovery measures to 

help all people in the same way. We are not utilizing culturally proficient interventions that would help on a different level to be relatable to each population.

We also have an issue with those who don’t believe they have a substance use disorder. From my experience, the way I was brought up and being around certain individuals, it gave me the perception that this is the way of life. 

Personal Story

I remember when I was convicted with a DUI and had to go before the judge. She sentenced me to go to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), alcohol highway safety education class, and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). The very first thing that popped into my head was that I’m not about to go and sit in a circle with people saying that I’m an alcoholic because I don’t have a problem. I just drink alcohol, and I overdo it from time to time so that I can let loose and have fun. The judge asked me if I had any words to say and while I didn’t repeat what I said in my head to her, I did indicate that I didn’t believe I had a problem, and I didn’t understand why I had to go to these groups if I didn’t have a problem. I believed that people who have problems can’t hold their liquor, or they can’t use any substance without getting obnoxious or belligerent. I went on to say that I took the sobriety field tests and passed all of them but then when I blew in the machine they arrested me. I didn’t understand—I was very coherent and alert. The judge went on to ask how old I was and I said I was 23. She then asked how old were you when you were caught, and I said I had just turned 21. Then she stated that my alcohol blood level was over 10 times the legal limit and that at 21 years of age I had the tolerance of a 50-year-old someone who has been drinking for much longer. She said that’s how they determined that I had a problem.

I believe that’s something we need to address: does the person have a substance use disorder or is it a lifestyle, and can treatment adequately address the issues of the lifestyle in addition to the issues of SUD?

There should also be an understanding that a lot of programs that are available are not culturally relevant or relatable to the minority individual, group, or to the minority population at large. 

Bad relationships exist Between African Americans and Treatment Providers.

What I want to provide next are examples of those who feel uneasy about treatment facilities, treatment providers, drug court, or recovery court recipients in general.

Here is a statement given by the N.A.D.C.P. (National Association of Drug Court Professionals): 

“Most African American drug court participants expressed unfavorable views toward their counselors, which is of concern, especially because one of the key components of the drug court model is for participants to receive treatment for their substance use disorders. Participants, for example, felt that treatment providers pressured them to accept labels, such as addict and alcoholic, which they viewed as derogatory and stigmatizing.” 

As I expressed earlier in the story about me having to go to these classes there was a stigma that was already attached. That is a barrier we have been fighting to eliminate: the language used in recovery in general. Then there are the barriers that we face racially.

“Additionally, participants felt they could not be honest with their counselors, because they feared the counselors would disclose the information they shared back to the drug court. They also felt that treatment providers used ultimatums to get them to comply with treatment requirements.”  

What I see is a lack of patience with individuals who are trying to get help. When accepting those labels, you first have to know that you are in need of help and if the person hasn’t recognized that at the beginning, then he or she is still pre-contemplative in their thinking. 

Anytime something is forced upon a black male he automatically and unknowingly goes into a rebellious behavior pattern. This is because of a mindset that came about generationally, which can be attributed to by PTSS (post-traumatic slave syndrome). Some of the forceful behaviors of the individual can expose a lot of the trauma that he/she has experienced in life.

A male participant in treatment, for example, shared his discomfort with being labeled an addict. He stated, “I have no respect for the counselors because they judge us and label us addicts.” 

One of my counselors even told me that he would not move me to the next phase of treatment until I admitted I am an addict and/or am in denial. I saw the word “addict” as a derogatory term, and I would not subject myself to their judgments and labels. 

Quoted from NADCP, “Another participant shared his uncertainties about being honest with his counselor, as his past experience with being honest had resulted in him losing his freedom. He explained, ‘I relapsed once while in drug court, but the judge didn’t know about it because they didn’t pick it up on the drop [urine drug screen]. But relapse wasn’t something I wanted to do, so I discussed it in group. Our counselors always talk about being honest, that ‘honesty is the key to recovery,’ and nonsense like that. So, I went to group, was honest about my relapse, and then the counselor called my case manager, snitched on me, and I went to jail. Honesty is not part of my recovery, and I can speak for all of us: all we do is lie to the counselors and tell them what they want to hear because no one wants to go to jail.’”

It’s a real shame because we need a safe place to talk about the challenges we are experiencing, and a safe place to treat our addictions, but this court doesn’t have that.”

In my experience when going to different places to give out resources and to talk about what is available to African American men regarding recovery support groups, or treatment options, and different aftercare plans that they can develop, this is not far from the truth. The men most often communicate that they have been treated differently than other individuals.  When disciplinary action had to be enforced it was enforced more quickly on one person then it was on another even though both of these individuals were at equal ‘chances.’ A person even mentioned that one of his roommates got kicked out for one violation while another committed a similar violation and instead of getting kicked out, he was given more chances. So, what he is saying is even in this area of recovery there is still a disadvantage in receiving full treatment and he doesn’t relate to a lot of things being taught here.

There are so many individuals I have come into contact with during my groups and I have heard plenty of reasons why they don’t want to participate. I’ve even had some individuals tell me that they don’t understand the life I live, understand the encounters I have had with different people or understand the environment that I stay in. A lot of times it’s difficult to walk away from your past. In recovery, they say you must change your people, places and things, but a lot of those people are my family and a lot of those places are where my family stays.                                                                                                        

What I’m saying is that we have a whole host of problems that need to be addressed holistically and maybe even before we get to the substance use part. But we can do this because addiction doesn’t discriminate and neither does recovery.                                                                                         †