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Created On Wednesday, 24, March 2021
Modified On Wednesday, 24, March 2021

Asian American Discrimination and Substance Abuse

Along with the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 saw a disturbing rise in anti-Asian racism. Starting with the virus's appearance in Wuhan, China, the President and many media outlets forwarded a message that the "Kung Flu" was inevitable, and Asians were to blame. Since then, we've seen a dramatic rise in violence and hate crimes targeted at Asian Americans or anyone who appears to be of Asian descent.

It's been discovered that 58% of Asian Americans and 45% of African Americans believe that racist views toward them have increased since the pandemic. According to data recently compiled by Wikipedia, there were several thousand incidences of xenophobia and racism against Asian Americans between 28 January and 24 February 2020.

Recently, the Atlanta Spa Shootings shed light on the fact that racism in America isn't only targeted towards blacks and Latinos and that Asian American racism is a longstanding problem that began when people of Asian descent first began immigrating here in the 1850s. But like other minorities, systemic racism has prevented Asian Americans from progressing into positions of power where they can expose these issues and effect change.

A major issue that doesn't receive the attention it deserves is the impact of substance abuse on the Asian American population. There are many stereotypes and bigoted beliefs that Asians do not suffer from Alcoholism or substance use disorders, despite evidence to the contrary. This viewpoint has denied many the ability to see that addiction is as big as an issue for people of Asian descent as anyone else and could be even bigger given the current backdrop of racial tension. Suffice to say, the dehumanization of anyone "different" is at the core of the racism that has prevailed for too long.

At Drug Rehab Services, we do not condone nor identify with efforts to suppress humanity. We welcome and support everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, or any factor. To do more than state this, we've provided information about the history of racism towards Asian Americans. We aim to destigmatize their need for substance abuse treatment services, just like the rest of us. We are all human and face struggles, and DRS is here to help anyone looking to improve their life and end addiction.

History of Asian American Discrimination

Asian Americans have struggled with extreme racism since they first came to this country. In the 1850s, Chinese immigrants began coming mainly to the Western American states. They filled high-demand, low-wage jobs like working on railroads and in extremely dangerous mines. This immediately began rhetoric of "Asians are stealing our jobs," which set off a trend of violence that still continues today. During these early years, the California Supreme Court ruled that people of Asian descent could not testify against someone who was white, a ruling referred to historically as the People Vs. Hall. This essentially granted whites freedom to attack Asians with violence or commit other crimes for which they'd never be prosecuted.

The next few decades saw strings of horrific attacks against Asian Americans. In 1871, the murder of a white man caught up in the crossfire between two rival Chinese groups led to a massacre. More than 500 people surrounded and attacked a small Chinese community, lynching at least 17 men and boys. The issues continued, and in 1882, Congress passed a law known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, which places a ban on all immigration from China. It was supposed to last for 20 years before being repealed finally after multiple extensions in 1943.

Another horrifying incident occurred in 1885 when 28 Asian mineworkers were surrounded and murder, with 79 homes being burned down. Hundreds of mineworkers escaped but were tricked into getting onto a train that was supposed to take them to safety in San Francisco. Instead, it took them back to the mines, where they were held captive and forced to work under federal watch for the next 13 years.

In 1900, there was a bubonic plague outbreak in San Francisco, which had circumstances mirroring today's coronavirus outbreak. The outbreak was traced to a boat that came from Australia, but because the first stateside passenger was Asian, they were blamed as a whole for starting the pandemic. Immediately, their community was surrounded, and no one except white people were allowed to enter or leave. This type of profiling is still very alive.

In the 1940s, tens of thousands of Japanese immigrants and Japanese were legally residing in the United States. But after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, they were all forced into "intermittent camps" until the war was over for fear that they would "aid the enemy." The conditions of the camps were horrific, and when they returned home, many found that their homes and businesses had been vandalized or destroyed. No Japanese American spies were ever found. Over forty years later, those survivors who were still alive were offered an apology and $20,000.

This list of incidents goes on and includes many which have been forgotten or suppressed in texts and history lessons. Korean immigrants were embroiled in racial tensions with neighboring black communities in Los Angeles during the 90s. When the Rodney King riots broke out, many Korean businesses were the target of racial attacks and vandalism. Even the 9/11 terrorist attacks led to Asian discrimination since many people perceived those of South Asian descent to be Muslim.

Substance Abuse and Asian Americans

Asian Americans struggle with substance abuse at rates very similar to the rest of the population. The stereotype that they do not has been born out of myth largely, with some small actual truth. This likely stems from the discovery of something known as "flushing syndrome." Flushing syndrome is a genetic factor that is particular to people of Asian descent, particularly certain subgroups. To fully understand the issue of racism towards Asian Americans, it is important to understand that many different groups of people from very different cultures are referred to as "Asian," or Asian American Pacific Islanders, or AAPI, to be more accurate and inclusive. And among nearly 50% of AAPI is present a genome that prevents the normal metabolism of alcohol. When this is present, the person will experience an adverse reaction to alcohol that is much like Antabuse. They may become flushed, nauseated, and feel ill.

This genetic difference does lower than rates at which almost half of the Asian American population are at a lower risk for alcoholism. But it doesn't eliminate the risk, and studies have shown that even people with flushing syndrome become alcohol dependent. This was once thought to protect Asians from Alcoholism and substance abuse and has even extended to the absurd stereotype that people of Asian descent do not experience mental health problems. This type of stigma prevents the problem from being acknowledged, let alone understood and addressed.

Sadly, we're discovering that Asian Americans struggle with addiction at even higher rates in some cases. Methamphetamine dependence among Pacific Island populations is startlingly high, at around 10%. Gambling and nicotine addiction are also extremely high in AAPI populations, and those born in America are three times more likely to use drugs than those who were born elsewhere. Another reason Asian Americans have been forgotten when it comes to substance abuse is that rates for addiction are frequently measured by statistics gathered from treatment facilities. Consequently, we only know that people are using drugs when they reach out to get help for it. Otherwise, they remain uncounted and anonymous. And for Asian Americans, there are many barriers that prevent them from seeking and receiving treatment.

Asian Americans are half as likely to enter treatment as non-Asian Americans. To make matters worse, Asian American women are even less likely. But when they do make it to treatment, AAPI populations are just as likely to complete treatment and succeed. So, why aren't they getting help?

Cultural barriers represent a major reason. There's no denying a difference in cultures between the "West and the East." For example, Eastern cultures rely on holistic medicine and healthcare much more than Americans, who rapidly resort to pharmaceuticals and surgery. Mental problems, which addiction is often considered, can be viewed as a sign of weakness.

Within family units, there's a greater inclination to handle issues internally and not "lose face" by asking for help from an outside agency. Addiction already comes with shame, and for AAPI, it's often extreme. This causes those who struggle with addiction to isolate and avoid seeking help. Other major barriers include the same ones many minority groups in America face. Due to the history of systemic racism, Asian Americans are underrepresented and lack advocacy to help them get treatment. Minority populations in America have greater rates of impoverishment and often cannot access assistance due to language barriers and other issues.

Lack of language services for Asian Americans prevents recent immigrants from doing things we take for granted, like getting a driver's license or government assistance. They may not even know what services exist to help them, and if they make it to treatment, they may not find language services there. All this adds up to fewer people getting help and the problem growing.

The Current Situation

The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on everyone, but particularly Asian Americans. An online reporting forum called "Stop AAPI Hate" recorded 1479 direct reports of discrimination against primarily Asian Americans between 18 and 15 April 2020. This was during the beginning of the pandemic. Now, we're at mass shootings, the most recent killing eight people in Atlanta.

Asian Americans are experiencing tension, loss, and stress. The coronavirus pandemic has created a difficult time for everyone, but adding heavy racism onto it has made matters worse. Substance abuse rates are already at an all-time high, according to recent data from the CDC.

Over 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12 months ending in May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period. It appears that the effect of the pandemic has been to increase rates of drug use and decrease rates of treatment. The combined stressors of life have increased for all. But Asian Americans have been experiencing all of that on top of being blamed for the virus. And now they're being targeted for murder. This has driven the issue of racism to the forefront. But knowing the problem, and solving it, are two different things.

The Solution

To begin solving this problem, we need to stop the bleeding both literally and figuratively. And the way to do that is to heal.

People need help, and right now, Asian Americans need it badly. They are suffering and in need of healing. Many of them are experiencing mental trauma and stress, so we can expect that they are turning to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. But we know that the numbers may not reflect this, so we need to be proactive.

Access to medical and mental health services like detox and substance abuse treatment must be increased for Asian Americans. And we need to stop assuming that they're immune to things like addiction and don't need help. They may not ask for it, but we need to check on our friends and offer them a hand. Other actions that may be beneficial include stopping racist remarks when you hear them and not perpetuate stereotypes. Support Asian-American businesses during these hard times may make a big difference since discrimination and xenophobia have hit them very hard. Educating people that there's a problem is the first step. We cannot remain ignorant of the existence of racism and substance abuse among the Asian American community. Now, action must follow education by supporting the people around us who need it most.

CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS ARTICLE

Michael Leach, CCMA - Author

More Information

Michael Leach is a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant, who has over 5 years of experience working in the field of addiction. He spent his career working under the board-certified Addictionologist Dr. Rohit Adi. His experience includes working with families during their loved one’s stay in treatment, helping those with substance abuse issues find treatment, and teaching life skills to patients in a recovery atmosphere. Though he has worked in many different areas of rehabilitation, the majority of his time was spent working one on one with patients who were actively withdrawing from drugs. Withdrawal and the fear of going through it is one biggest reason why an addict continues to use and can be the most difficult part of the rehabilitation process. His experience in the withdrawal atmosphere has taught him that regardless of what approach a person takes to get off drugs, there are always mental and emotional obstacles that need to be overcome. He believes having someone there to help a person through these obstacles can make all the difference during the withdrawal process.


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