Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders and Addiction

Asian-Americans and American Pacific Islanders comprise of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the United States. They are known as the “model minority” and experience stereotypes for achieving academic excellence and success, but some of the fall victim to alcohol and drug addiction.

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Facts About Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders and Addiction

Both Asian-Americans and Pacific Islander-Americans tend to have lower rates of minority stress and psychological stress compared to other ethnic groups. Factors such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, alienation from family, stress of high expectations and academic performance, depression, low income living, and poor mental health can contribute to substance abuse among this demographic, however.

Studies have shown that substance abuse in Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities are somewhat lower than in other communities. Moreover, the community typically exhibits a lower rate of illicit substances abuse (such as with heroin, marijuana and stimulants). Lastly, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders tend to be hesitant to get help for substance abuse. Even still, “14% of Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders between 18 to 25 need substance abuse treatment—slightly lower than the 21% average in other groups.”

Asian-focused addiction studies yield different results based on whether or not the individual is a refugee, or whether they were born in the U.S. or in a different country. Researchers and medical professional continue surveying Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities in Hawaii, where they comprise a majority of the population, and the mainline United States, to better grasp substance abuse trends.

Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders and Alcoholism

Research found Asian-Americans between 18 to 25 drank heavily although they were considered a “low-risk group” with alcohol abuse. Additional research found Korean-Americans, Filipino-Americans and Japanese-Americans have higher numbers of problem drinking (binge drinking, heavy drinking) than other Asian groups. There was a five-fold increase of drinking in the Asian-American community, “from 0.74% between 1991 and 1992, to 3.89% in 2001 to 2002.”

Pacific Islanders—including Hawaiians—have a higher rate of alcohol abuse, cigarette use and obesity when compared to other racial groups. Roughly 60% of men in the Pacific Island countries and territories were current drinkers; additionally, men in this region drank more frequently, and were heavy drinkers when compared to female counterparts. To contrast these statistics with younger Asian-Americans, 7.1% of Asian-Americans aged 12 to 17 used alcohol in the month the study was conducted.

Asian immigrants and Asian Americans have a higher risk of gambling addiction compared to other groups. There was a 6% to 60% range of “pathological gamblers”—namely Southeast Asian refugees being a higher identified group.

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Asian Americans and Tobacco Exposure/Addiction

Tobacco use is very common in Asian and Pacific Islander communities, but lower in Asian-American and Pacific Islander-American groups. Research has found 60% of native Chinese and Korean men smoke cigarettes, while 17% of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islander-Americans smoke tobacco-based products. When Asian-Americans and Pacific Islander-Americans do smoke, they smoked more than other ethnic groups. As a result, cancer rates tend to be more prevalent in the Asian-American community.

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Asians Americans and Gambling Addiction

Asian immigrants and Asian Americans have a higher risk of gambling addiction compared to other groups. There was a 6% to 60% range of “pathological gamblers”—namely Southeast Asian refugees being a higher identified group. The national rate of gambling was 1% to 2%. Speculations range from a belief in luck prevalent in many Asian and Asian-Americans, and cultural traditions and card games.

For example, New Year’s holidays in Asian communities encourage card games where money and betting are involved. The involvement of lucky thinking can act as a rewarding motivation for those who are successful in gambling. A survey studied Boston’s Chinatown to discover Chinese residents “visited casinos to relieve stress from low-income wage jobs, poverty and cultural isolation. The Chinese American men surveyed do it to cope with daily challenges.Like other behavioral and substance abuse-related disorders, factors such as isolation, lack of community support, stress or anxiety, depression or other mental disorders can lead to addiction. Unfortunately, casinos play to their Asian target audiences by providing ethnic food, free transportation, and Asian-speaking card dealers.

Another contributing factor was the continued practice of gambling addictions after immigrating to the United States. Gambling is problematic as it can contribute to obsessiveness, financial loss, time away from family, isolation, emotional highs and lows, broken relationships, and helplessness. If gamblers have kids of American-born children, these habits can be passed on to them unknowingly.

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Challenges For Getting Treatment

Both groups did not actively seek treatment for substance abuse disorders. Some contributing factors were:

  • Spiritual and cultural beliefs (alternative medicine, yoga, meditation, herbal remedies)
  • Concerns of personal reputation
  • Maintaining the family structure
  • Concerns with family reputation
  • Language barriers
  • Financial or insurance issues
  • Shortages of culturally knowledgeable therapists or medical professionals
  • A mistrust of Western medicine

Being Vulnerable Is The Key To Positive Change

There are  harm reduction programs for Asian-Americans that are meant to restore victims of addiction in the Asian community to better health. Despite this, it is best to get help in a professional facility with drugs for alcoholism like Naltrexone and medications that make detox slightly more comfortable. In addition, patients in treatment can have one-on-one counseling and 12-Step support. For those who practice specific faiths, there are faith-based treatments available. Being vulnerable may seem scary, but it can be the secret needed to facilitate change. Please take the first step toward healing and dedicated treatment provider today.

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