The All Party Parliamentary Group of The Treatment of Addiction in the UK recently highlighted that 92% of all people in treatment for addiction are recorded as white. In this blog, Sohan Sahota, Managing Director of the drug and alcohol recovery support service BAC-IN, explores what barriers exist for those from black and Asian backgrounds who are seeking support for alcohol addiction and how treatment services can better support those from minority or marginalised groups.
Why BAC-IN was founded
Black and Asian Cultural Identification of Narcotics (BAC-IN) is a Nottingham based, peer-led, abstinence-focused drug and alcohol recovery support service for individuals, families and young adults from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. We are an award winning, grassroots community service inspired and founded in 2003 by BAME individuals in recovery.
We provide a holistic and culturally tailored approach to addiction recovery that addresses mental health and multiple disadvantages, to help individuals to realise their potential. The essence of lived experience, addiction recovery and cultural expertise is at the heart of BAC-IN’s guiding philosophy, organisational principles and service delivery.
Over the past 17 years we have had a transformative impact on many lives, empowering individuals and families to achieve and sustain recovery and improve their well-being.
BAC-IN provides an alternative, culturally responsive model that offers a choice of psycho-social, cultural, faith-based and spiritual perspectives to addiction recovery, rehabilitation and well-being.
We play a distinct and unique role in specialist service provision in Nottingham, Nottinghamshire and across the East Midlands, engaging, supporting and empowering BAME individuals and families.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ recovery model – individual needs must always be considered
BAME communities face significant health, economic, social and structural inequalities and the current pandemic has made these inequalities much worse. Our service users often face difficulties in accessing health services, particularly mental health, drug and alcohol treatment.
These difficulties include language barriers, stigma and cultural differences and can prevent many from accessing and engaging with services and sustaining treatment and recovery. Mainstream service providers can often lack the cultural understanding and sensitivity needed to work effectively with BAME individuals with substance use disorders and are therefore unable to provided tailored, culturally appropriate support for individual needs.
In addition, members of BAME communities can face several other deep-seated challenges when seeking support including: mistrust of mainstream services, cultural shame and experiences of racial prejudice.
The underrepresentation of BAME communities in treatment services
A worrying and growing concern for staff at BAC-IN is the increasing under-representation of BAME communities in drug and alcohol treatment services. The All Party Parliamentary Group of The Treatment of Addiction in the UK recently highlighted that 92% of all people in treatment for addiction are recorded as white.
This is nothing new. In a literature review on ethnicity and alcohol from 2011, Mariana Bayley and Anthony Goodman noted that people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds have similar rates of alcohol dependency as the white population; however services “do not appear to be responsive enough to the needs of minority ethnic groups”.
COVID-19 and its impact on our services
Our service delivery during the pandemic and lockdown has highlighted that COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting communities from BAME backgrounds. People we support are often already afraid and anxious. The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on BAME communities does nothing to ease these anxieties. We’ve observed that the increased anxiety caused by COVID-19 is pushing many of our service users back into drug use and increased use of alcohol, putting many of the service users we work with at increased risk of offending to fund their addictions.
The pandemic is also exacerbating problems for those with existing and underlying mental health problems and putting significant strain and stresses on families who were already struggling to support a loved one who is struggling with drug and alcohol dependency.
BAC-IN and partner BAME organisations have observed that isolation during lockdown has also had a huge impact on the mental health and social functioning of many BAME service users and their families, leading to depression, loneliness, risk of self-harm and suicide, increased levels of domestic abuse, loss of employment and significant financial pressure. There is insurmountable suffering for many BAME people in a life of addiction, with unspeakable trauma linked to mental health and an enduring agony caused to their families.
Equal access to treatment is the way forward
As we know, limited access to treatment services results in untreated addiction problems. This in turn can lead to lifelong, chronic and physical ill-health including cardiovascular disease and escalated risk of cancer and stroke. Within the healthcare sector, it is our collective responsibility to challenge inequality, highlight the underlying causes and work together to bring about system change and social justice for all.
This issue cannot be overcome until the cultural context and experience of the BAME population is taken into account at all levels from national policy to on the ground mainstream service provision. Without the core elements of deep cultural understanding and the ability to foster a genuine sense of connection, approaches to addiction and recovery for BAME communities will remain stuck under a low ceiling of effectiveness.
BAC-IN’s own experiences – as peers and professionals – give cause for optimism, as research highlights that BAME communities would benefit from culturally responsive successful recovery models such as ours.
It’s time for us to take another serious look at our treatment services and models of recovery and ensure that every person in our society has access to the effective and appropriate support that will help them most, whatever their background.
Written by Sohan Sahota
To find out more about the issues raised in this blog, ‘Culture, connection and belonging: a study of addiction and recovery in Nottingham’s BAME community’ is available from Sheffield Hallam University Research Archive or visit the BAC-IN website.
For further information, please contact Sohan Sahota, Managing Director of BAC-IN: firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog was published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alcohol Health Alliance or its members.