By: Michael Leach
Drug education campaigns and prevention programs are the front line of defense for fighting against substance use and addiction. Drug education provides information, guidelines, resources, skills, and other helpful information that is relevant to living in a growing world where illegal drugs are available everywhere.
While some campaigns and prevention resources are more effective than others. One aspect of drug education is often overlooked: considering diversity and cultural identity when delivering these campaigns.
Drug and Alcohol Prevention Should be Relevant to a Changing World
In today's world, acknowledging cultural diversity is essential. It helps dispel harmful biases and negative stereotypes about different groups. Acknowledging cultural diversity also helps us, as individuals, respect other ways of being that are not our own.
This same train of thought should be taken into drug and alcohol prevention and education.
Drugs and alcohol are viewed differently throughout every culture across the globe. Culture is often considered a system of patterns of beliefs. In addition, it is behaviors within certain cultures that shape worldviews.
Substance use, for example, often focuses on the abuse of illegal and legal drugs. However, what is considered illegal and legal is culturally determined and varies between every social group.
Drug education and prevention campaigns should be culturally and socially relevant to the targeted groups.
How to Make Drug Education and Prevention Relevant
The best way to examine this is with youth.
Long, drawn-out lectures about drug education are less effective when compared to interactive, experiential activities.
"Drug education providers will not see any success when standing on a stage and lecturing young people," said Marcel Gemme of Addicted.org. "While education and prevention campaigns must be informative, they must also hold the person's interest and ensure they understand and retain the information."
Research has shown that when youth can resonate with the cultural aspects of a prevention program, it strongly impacts their retention, interest, and positive outcomes.
However, while some activities may appeal to some youth, others could be considered inappropriate by another. For example, the scenarios and examples in any drug education campaign may not capture every young person's life experiences.
The Views Surrounding Substance Use Changes from One Ethnic, Cultural, or Religious Group to Another
For example, there are various racial groups in the United States, such as white, black, Asian or Pacific Islander, and American Indian or Alaskan Native. Social Sciences clearly demonstrate that most races are subdivided into different ethnic groups.
Someone who originates from Spain, Mexico, and Cuba belongs to Iberian, Hispanic, or Latino ethnic groups. Moreover, cultural groups share many of the same customs, ideas, and behaviors.
Different cultural, racial, and religious backgrounds may overlap, but significant differences exist. So tailoring drug education and prevention to address these differences should be considered.
Views on Drug and Alcohol Use Differs Culturally
Public health officials must be familiar with these differences. The use of drugs and treatment of substance use differs from one cultural group to another.
Research has shown that many health care workers, for example, believe that 12-step facilitation such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous only benefits white Christian males from European backgrounds.
During a 12-step meeting, an individual must surrender to a higher power. Some African Americans, for example, may feel they have a lack of power as individuals or as a race. In contrast, African American culture strongly values the sense of community, which is what 12-step facilitation revolves around; a recovery community.
Asian American communities strongly disapprove of drug users, and most fear drug use, especially injection drug use. Traditional Chinese culture, for example, reinforces moderate drinking and looks down on drunkenness. Traditional Japanese culture focuses on much of the same.
Other studies have shown (referenced above) that Hispanic Americans become more likely to abuse drugs the longer they live in the United States, influenced by American culture.
Promote Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Field of Drug Education and Prevention
As America is facing a deepening opioid and overdose crisis, it is becoming increasingly essential to alleviate worsening health disparities. Experts believe there is an immediate need for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the addiction field, including drug education and prevention.
There are significant gaps in addiction treatment, and cultural considerations are often overlooked.
According to one paper (.pdf) :
"Addiction transcends all social identities, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, social class, and religion. As such, it is vital that addiction professionals learn behaviors, strategies, and techniques that are culturally responsive and create an inclusive treatment environment (Cultural Consideration in Addiction Treatment, intro pg2)."
Drug education and prevention providers should consider this when designing their education campaigns.
Like anything else, there is no one-size-fits-all for drug education and prevention. Diversity, equity, and inclusion should be at the forefront when designing campaigns.
Illustration : DepositPhotos - monkeybusiness
Michael Leach has spent most of his career as a health care professional specializing in Substance Use Disorder and addiction recovery. He is a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant, and runs the healthcare website Recovery Begins.
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