overtly racist or sexist to another person. But less research has been done on what are known as micro-aggressions, small everyday occurrences that can rub a person the wrong way. That research is improving, but there are other factors that need to be more fully explored. While studies have looked at historical trauma in the African-American population, the concept has not been fully investigated with regards to Hispanic and Asian populations. “This notion of historic trauma could be really relevant to other groups, but it hasn't received much attention at all,” Dr. Gilbert says. “This is something we should pay attention to.” All of this adds up to the fact that treatment providers may be missing a key piece of the substance abuse puzzle.
The team found that discrimination did indeed lead to an increase in drinking frequency, quantity of alcohol consumed, and in the risk for alcohol use disorders. Researchers say drinking can represent a coping mechanism in response to the stress caused by discrimination, and several studies showed clients acknowledging this direct link themselves. But when looking at specific populations and types of discrimination, the picture becomes less clear. “The story is that generally there is good scientific support, but the evidence is mixed for different groups and for types of discrimination,” says Dr. Paul Gilbert, the study’s lead author. “We don’t really know comparing one type or one level to another.” For example, much research has been done on interpersonal discrimination where someone is
Discrimination, whether based on race, gender, or sexual orientation, has long been thought to be a contributor to substance abuse. Now a new study has confirmed the relationship between discrimination and addiction, but it’s also brought up many more questions that still need to be answered in order to improve treatment outcomes. Researchers at the University of Iowa recently completed a peer review study in which they looked at 97 previous studies on discrimination and alcohol use. Their goal was to summarize the collective knowledge researchers have uncovered throughout the years, and what they found confirmed in more detail what many had previously suspected.
But just because the intricacies of how discrimination affects drinking aren’t yet fully understood, that doesn’t mean our current knowledge base can’t be helpful. Dr. Gilbert says simply knowing that experiences with discrimination can drive drinking could inform the way treatment providers interact with clients, opening new areas of their lives to explore during treatment. “It can serve as sort of an early warning or indicator,” Dr. Gilbert says. “For treatment providers, it’s worth looking at: is there something that may be keeping folks from accessing services or affecting outcomes?”
Dr. Gilbert says treatment providers should continue to address discrimination as part of a holistic approach to recovery. He says it will be up to researchers to fill
in the gaps to find the precise ways that discrimination affects drinking behavior. “We’ve got good evidence on this level of interpersonal discrimination,” Dr. Gilbert says. “We’ve gotten the low-hanging fruit, now it’s time to start working on the stuff that’s a little further up the tree.”
“It can serve as sort of an early warning or indicator.”
“Generally there is good scientific support, but the evidence is mixed for different groups
and for types of discrimination.” - Dr.Paul Gilbert, University of Iowa
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