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Addiction amongst ethnic minority groups

By Dr Omair Ahmed, Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Woodbourne

Dr Ahmed specialises in the mental health and addiction treatment of those in ethnic minority groups, and is able to provide consultations in various Asian languages including Hindi and Urdu.

Ethnic minority groups can face difficulties when navigating the UK healthcare system. They can face language barriers, cultural differences and isolation, which can prevent them accessing and engaging in treatment.

In fact, ethnic minority groups are more likely to experience limited access and poor engagement in addiction services. Statistics from 2015 – 2016 showed that 85% of people in addiction treatment were White British (Public Health Matters).

Limited access to addiction services can result in addiction issues going untreated which can lead to long-lasting and chronic sociological, psychological and physical health problems. These include:

  • Relationship problems, particularly with family and close friends
  • Difficulty maintaining work commitments
  • Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety
  • Physical health issues such as cardiovascular system and liver problems
  • Increased risk of stroke and cancer

An individual’s ethnicity and culture can affect their opinion and attitude towards seeking treatment for addiction. Ethnic minority groups are more likely to seek help from family, friends or religious guides rather than healthcare professionals.

There may also be heightened stigma and perceived repercussions of drug use amongst their cultural peer group. Conversely, some drugs have a reduced stigma or are normalised amongst ethnic groups, for example:

  • *Khat use in Somalian communities can be seen as acceptable
  • Heavy drinking in the Polish community can be seen as acceptable
  • Heavy drinking in the Sikh community can be seen as a sign of hospitality

This can result in the dangers and long-term negative consequences of particular drugs being ignored.

In addition to stigma issues, there is often a lack of information available to ethnic minorities about illicit drugs and their consequences; language barriers can also be a factor in receiving and understanding information.

Ethnic minority groups can also be influenced against accessing services due to:

  • Lack of trust in services; the belief that services don’t cater for cultural differences
  • Concerns about confidentiality; ethnic minority groups often live in close-knit communities where privacy within the community can be difficult to maintain
  • Long waiting times

Tips for GPs and healthcare professionals

As healthcare professionals, we have the ability to impact on peoples’ experiences and understanding of addiction treatment.

The following information can help practitioners to provide treatment and support to patients in minority ethnic groups who seek support for addiction issues:

  • Improve the quality of interpretation services
  • Provide information about drugs and alcohol in different languages, including details of the services on offer
  • Intercultural awareness training for healthcare professionals
  • Diversity in healthcare professionals (for example, more counsellors from ethnic backgrounds)
  • Services need to take cultural and religious beliefs into account (for example, adapted cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT))
  • Involve community leaders in outreach programmes

Along with the wider Priory network, Priory Hospital Woodbourne provides an Addiction Treatment Programme with consultants and therapists from various ethnic backgrounds.

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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding addiction treatment and rehabilitation, please call 0800 144 8969 or click here to book a FREE ADDICTION ASSESSMENT. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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