Substance abuse is a diverse condition, but the needs of other groups of people are often overlooked. If you’re an Asian-American or Pacific Islander, what do you need to know, and what resources are available to you? Learn more through this post.

The United States is commonly described as a melting pot of people with various heritages and cultures. Although a large portion of the demographics consists of Caucasians and African-Americans, the fourth largest group comprises Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. When combined, they account for 6.1% of the total population.

It goes without saying that this group of people isn’t spared from mental health conditions such as substance abuse and other co-occurring disorders. Addiction can affect anyone, regardless of their race, gender, age, level of income, or social background.

Addiction Among Asian-Americans And Pacific Islanders

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 4.9% of the total Asian-American and Pacific Islander population is in need of drug or alcohol rehabilitation. However, they are the group less likely to receive adequate care. There is a 10% chance that an Asian American or Pacific Islander won’t receive substance abuse treatment compared to other major racial groups.

Additionally, the people who did not receive treatment have self-perceptions that they do not really need any kind of intervention at all. Among the group objectively needing treatment, 94.7% believe that their addiction problem does not warrant medical attention.

Here are also notable facts and figures:

  • Asian-Americans comprise 4.1% of the total US population in need of substance abuse treatment
  • Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders (NHOPIs) account for 15.1% of the population in need of addiction treatment
  • 24.7% of NHOPIs and 12.4% of Asian-Americans engaged in binge drinking within the past 30 days, from a 2013 survey

These statistics show that there is an alarming rate of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders suffering from addictions and needing treatment. Knowing this, there should be equal access to information as well as medical care for all people with different racial and cultural backgrounds.

Risk Factors For Substance Abuse

It is interesting to note that the risk factors for substance abuse among Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders are quite different from other races. If you suspect an addiction problem in yourself or a loved one within this demographic, there are some risk factors you might want to look out for:

Racial culture

There are particular Asian-American and Pacific Islander groups who lean more on their drinking habits or culture of marijuana use, which leads them to a higher risk of suffering from alcoholism or drug abuse. One specific example is the use of cannabis by young Pacific Islanders, mainly influenced by the relaxed mindset or “hang loose” culture on the Hawaiian islands.

Family culture

Aside from the overall racial culture, family culture also plays a key role in the risk factors of substance abuse. According to researchers, the Asian subgroups are more likely to develop drinking or drug habits when they are exposed to a family culture of drinking alcohol or taking drugs.

Peer perceptions

Another possible risk factor among this population is their perceived use of peers. For example, Asian college students who are exposed to peers drinking or using drugs are more likely to exhibit the same behaviors, and they carry it through adulthood.

History of mental health disorders

Another study looked into Asian mothers and their daughters. It was noted that females who have a family history of depressive symptoms were most likely to drink alcohol and take drugs. Other co-occurring mental health issues such as anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), mood and personality disorders are related to increased risk of substance abuse.

Myths And Misconceptions Affecting This Community

There are various misconceptions about the Asian-American and Pacific Islander groups regarding addictions. Both are coming from within the community, as well as from the outside looking in:

Within the community

  • Mental health illnesses and addictions are a taboo subject. Many Asian Americans are afraid to come forward about their conditions because the community cares a lot about their reputation. Common especially among East Asian cultures, some individuals would rather “save face” than to admit their substance abuse issues.
  • The feeling that no other Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are suffering the same conditions. Although this misconception isn’t unique to other demographics, Asians and Pacific Islanders feel this more intensely because of their high expectations among themselves. For example, Japanese people’s high expectations of themselves leave some individuals feeling isolated–such as the case of the hikikomori’s or the modern-day hermits.
  • There is no help available specific to their needs. Because the percentage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders with addictions is smaller compared to others, they may think that there is no specific care for their group, which is the contrary, especially for high-quality rehab centers.

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From the outside

  • The Asian-American and Pacific Islander community don’t need help as much as other people with racial backgrounds. Since the percentage of people under this demographic with substance use disorders are quite small, it is easy to assume that they don’t need much help compared to African-Americans or Caucasians. This could never be farther from the truth and leads them away from seeking help.
  • The severity of their conditions aren’t as bad as other people with different racial backgrounds. Another common stereotype for Asian-Americans is that they are known for being “meek”. Their ability to assimilate to other cultures makes them have the skill to hide what they are going through, even if they actually need professional help.

For this community to get the information and resources they need, people need to be aware of these misconceptions that lead them away from seeking treatment.

Co-occurring Mental Illnesses Among Asian Americans

According to a study done in 2014, the most common co-occurring mental health disorders among Asian Americans are the following:

Anxiety Disorders

The most common among Asian Americans are Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, Social phobia and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Mood Disorders

Major depressive disorders account for a large percentage of co-occurring mental illness. Although less common, Dysthymia also is seen in 2% of the sample from the population.

Other mental health disorders

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders, personality disorders, and eating disorders also comprise around 18% of the sample, aside from the mood and anxiety disorders found in Asian Americans.

Cultural Barriers To Treatment

As previously mentioned, there are cultural insinuations that prevent Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from getting the help they need. Often, these cultural barriers come upon as years and years of ingrained mindsets that are hard to break.

  • Protecting their image and showing that they are successful – associated with the concept of “saving face” this Asian American and Pacific Islander culture shows that a lot of them care about the facade they put up in front of others.
  • Having fears of being a burden – this demographic is also more prone to thinking that they will be a burden if they share mental health and substance abuse disorders. Even if it’s not directly stated by family and peers, they are quick to assume that sharing these problems will make others worry about them more than necessary.
  • Having hesitations due to religious beliefs – some people within the community think that their disorders are spiritual in nature, which means that seeking medical help isn’t necessary. However, with much education, seeking professional help can both be a spiritual and scientific kind of treatment that is suited to each individual’s needs while respecting their religious background.

These cultural barriers are similar to misconceptions, but both professionals and individuals from this group must educate themselves with these narratives. It can help Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders become more open and receptive to start and continue addiction treatment when these issues are discussed.

How Can Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders Get Help For Addiction Disorders?

Now that we understand the myths and barriers for the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community in seeking drug and alcohol rehabilitation, it is rightful to discuss the resources that they look into for more information about substance abuse.

Seeking a high-quality rehab center with diverse treatment options

One of the most important characteristics of an ideal rehab center for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are those with a multitude of treatment options. This will help them get a more custom-tailored treatment that respects and considers their cultural and racial background.

Reading up information on drug and alcohol abuse

Asian American Drug/Alcohol Abuse is common that most people think. Although statistical prevalence shows a lower percentage, there may be a larger percentage of people within the community who are hesitant to come forward due to stigma and cultural barriers. As shown in the cover of (National Asian and Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse (NAPAFASA)), there are resources available for this community to know more about mental health conditions and substance use disorders based on their cultural background.

Encouraging family and friends

If you know an Asian-American or Pacific Islander who exhibit signs of addiction, encourage them to get help right away. More likely than not, they have been thinking of getting treatment but may only need a little encouragement from people that matter to them the most. You may also try to stage an intervention as a way for them to fully commit to addiction treatment.

Culture Shouldn’t Be A Hindrance To Sobriety

When it comes to a diverse country such as the United States, culture shouldn’t be a hindrance to treatment–but rather a tool to exhibit compassion and understanding. Though these differences come obvious to people with various backgrounds, it is better to view cultural uniqueness as an opportunity to listen more and find solutions for substance abuse that truly work.

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  • – “U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: United States”.
  • – “Need for and Receipt of Substance Use Treatment among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders”.
  • – “Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings”.
  • – “Cannabis use among young people in Paci c Island Countries and Territories”.
  • – “Differences in Substance Use and Substance Use Risk Factors by Asian Subgroups”.
  • – “Substance Use Behavior among Early-Adolescent Asian American Girls: The Impact of Psychological and Family Factors”.
  • – “Saving Face vs Losing Face: Important Etiquette in Asia”.
  • – “The plight of Japan’s modern hermits”.
  • – “Being a good, quiet and assimilated model minority is making me angry”.
  • – “Lifetime Prevalence of Mental Disorders among Asian Americans: Nativity, Gender, and Sociodemographic Correlates”.
  • – “Resources”.