Prevalence of Substance Abuse Among African Americans

Prevalence of Substance Abuse Among African Americans

Addiction is a complex topic to discuss. For people suffering from substance abuse, and their loved ones close to them, the situation as a whole can be difficult to understand. Therefore, when explaining difficult matters such as this, it is important, to be honest, focus on clear communication and support, and foresee the issues of susceptibility that many communities face. 

When it comes to substance abuse throughout the United States, the issue is not just black and white. Addiction is not a discriminatory disease, it plagues every community, regardless of race. While that is true, minority groups, especially the African American community, are distinguished for having higher rates of substance abuse than the general population. 

At Renewal Behavioral Healthcare, our team of addiction specialists understands the issues of substance abuse and mental illness that are unique to the African American population. 

Due to our knowledge and resources of different minority groups, we have been successful at helping people and their loved ones recognize the signs of addiction and help find the best comprehensive treatment plan to fit their needs. High-quality care, accurate diagnosis, and diverse treatment services comprise our philosophy of care, resulting in optimal recovery and long-term sobriety. 

What Are Some Causes of Substance Abuse Among African Americans?

There are various risk factors and stressors, which African American individuals are exposed to daily. As a result, their vulnerability to abuse substances such as drugs and alcohol increases exponentially. The main causes of substance abuse among African Americans include the following:


According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the exposure to any type of trauma for African Americans and other ethnic minorities in their lifetime is estimated to be 76.37%. That high number shows just how prevalent trauma in this community truly is, and how it greatly affects a person’s overall health.

Types of Trauma Affecting African Americans

Unfortunately, within African American communities, there are high rates of exposure to violence and trauma. This includes experiencing and/or witnessing hate crimes, racism, rape (sexual abuse), and physical, emotional, and domestic violence. 

These types of complex and developmental traumas often lead to the onset of a common type of mental health condition called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is classified as a type of complex trauma, which develops after a person has either witnessed or experienced a traumatic or terrifying ordeal. 

Symptoms of anxiety, depression, flashbacks, and nightmares often occur as a result and will persist until treated and managed by a mental health professional. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is extremely prevalent in African Americans, as they have the highest rate of prognosis at 8.7 percent, more than other ethnic communities.  

Effects of Trauma on African Americans and Other Ethnic Minorities

The three E’s of trauma are events, experience, and effects. The most important being the effect component, trauma has various short-term and long-term physical, mental/emotional, and social side effects. 

For people who live in more rural areas, black communities tend to have easier accessibility to drugs and alcohol. African American adolescents with fewer economic and educational opportunities are the most at risk of developing drug and alcohol dependency and addiction.

Especially, for those who have experienced or witnessed some type of trauma, and as a result, have developed PTSD, are at major risk for engaging in addictive behaviors, such as substance abuse. If PTSD is left untreated, these are the following repercussions: 

  • Experimenting with drugs and alcohol 
  • High-risk of developing addiction due to 
  • developing addiction  addictive behavior (Drugs and alcohol) 
  • Unable to cope and respond to situations   
  • Development of severe anxiety
  • Persistent flashbacks and nightmares of traumatic event
  • Damaging of relationships (Friendships, family)
  • Performing tasks is extremely difficult
  • Psychological responses are impacted
  • Overall well-being is impacted
  • Beliefs and thoughts are affected 

Mental Illness

African Americans are more likely to have some form of undiagnosed or untreated mental illness. People with mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc, are at major risk of using drugs and alcohol as a means to cope with their illness. People with underlying or pre-existing mental illness also are at the most risk for developing an addiction at the same time. This is known as dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder.

Crime and Violence

More than other ethnic groups, African Americans tend to live in locations that are known to have high rates of incarcerations due to crime and violence. Especially, American American males are commonly sentenced and jailed for drug-related offenses, 8 percent more than caucasian males, and comprises 42% of the prison population.   

Drug and alcohol abuse is extremely common in areas with poverty. These communities are plagued with higher rates of HIV, hepatitis, tuberculosis, and other conditions, causing ill health and decreased quality of life. 

Racism and Discrimination

African Americans have been vulnerable to racism and discrimination forever, and it still exists. Feelings of stress, guilt, embarrassment, all affect a person’s overall health, mental, and physical. 

Having a history of racism and inequality of opportunity means that Black people are statistically more likely to be living in such conditions of poverty. 

Due to the stigma surrounding African American people, including racism and discrimination, drugs and alcohol are used as a common coping mechanism.

Financial Reasons

One of the main reasons why people in general and in the African American community may have significant barriers to receiving help that they need is due to finances. Not being able to afford treatment and not having access to health insurance is a very common issue.

But, there are benefits and payment plans that admissions specialists can verify your insurance plans, and address with you regarding information for setting up a payment plan to be able to receive treatment. Fortunately, the costs of treatment can be managed in different ways.

Lack of Treatment

Unfortunately, due to these barriers, people within this community commonly avoid seeking out necessary treatment and recovery programs more than other minority groups. Children especially are likely to experience physical and mental health issues, academic struggles, and behavioral problems.

Differences in Substance Abuse Patterns With the African American Population

According to the United States Bureau of the Census, there are more than 40 million African American people living in America, comprising approximately 14 percent of the total population. 

Unfortunately, previously conducted research studies have shown that this minority group continues to be affected by substance abuse, making it one of the most complex and prevalent problems among Black people. This is especially true, as this population experiences less favorable outcomes with addiction treatment. 

The likelihood of substance use disorders (SUD) is statistically higher, and associated with a host of health problems, financial hardships, failed relationships, domestic violence, and rape.

Stigma Surrounding Mental Health for African Americans

Stigma does only come in tthe form of racism and discrimination from other populations. It is also rooted in African American people and their attitudes toward their own community, especially regarding mental illness. 

The reason the Black community is so resistant to seeking treatment for mental illness due to assumptions about those with mental illness, medical providers, treatment, and fears due to what others have told them. Biases present themselves in multiple ways. These preconceived attitudes and beliefs impact a person’s quality of care and life, as it deters them from seeking or continuing treatment. 

Also, this misinformed stigma against mental illness has led to inaccurate forms of treatment and takes away one’s ability to feel supported, which is one of the most crucial components of having a successful recovery.

Dual Diagnosis: Substance Abuse and Mental Illness in African American Communities

Substance abuse and mental illness commonly occur at the same time. This is called dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. Treatment for substance abuse and mental illness for African Americans is completed in an inpatient and/or outpatient rehab mental health center. The goal is to treat both conditions to avoid any underlying causes or misdiagnosis.

Substance Abuse Treatment Options and Outcomes Among African Americans

At Renewal Behavioral Healthcare, for people in the African American community who need treatment, we believe in directing them to our community-based mental health and substance abuse treatment services and resources. 

African Americans struggling with drug and alcohol addiction have unique needs that are incorporated into a comprehensive treatment plan and tailored based on one’s recovery and treatment goals.

Our specialists use the following treatment methods and therapies below to help people in this community recover and live a better quality of life! They include

Renewal BHC Will Help You Get Your Life Back On Track!

If you or a loved one is suffering from substance abuse or mental illness, we don’t discriminate based on age, sex, race, or gender. Contact us today to get your life back on track!