The role of ethnicity in substance abuse

Joseph Westermeyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Ethnicity can be a confusing concept. In part, it includes inherited characteristics such as race. Certain other aspects are learned, such as religion, language, attitudes, values, or customs. National origin of oneself or one’s kin can be a component of ethnicity. Group affiliation and participation in certain ritual and ceremony are also involved in ethnicity. Substance abuse and dependence may undermine certain aspects of ethnicity and ethnic affiliations, by interfering with traditional values, attitudes, preferred behaviors, and interpersonal relationships. Substance abuse leads to the evolution of new values, attitudes and behaviors. These are remarkably similar (though not identical) from one chemically dependent person to another. In some cases the chemically dependent person remains a social isolate, while in other cases the individual joins with others to create a subculture in which the drug or alcohol centered values, attitudes and behaviors are shared. Treatment of alcoholism or drug abuse - if successful - produces crisis in ethnic identity for many people. Drug centered values and behaviors are directly confronted in the treatment process, and affiliation with alcohol or drug subcultures is specifically undermined. This may create a state of anomie - with its attendant confusion, anxiety, and loss. Out of this turmoil some individuals resume their original, childhood ethnic identities and affiliations (though often more accentuated than before). Others assume new ethnic identities or affiliations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9-18
Number of pages10
JournalAdvances in Alcohol and Substance Abuse
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 21 1984
Externally publishedYes


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