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Barriers to alcohol and other drugs treatment

In Australia, culturally and linguistically diverse people represent a small portion of those accessing drug and alcohol treatment services. When families do attempt to seek treatment it’s usually because of a medical or legal crisis.

Often families will try their own traditional medicines or healing methods first. It is important that you recognise and value traditional healing methods important to CALD families and how these may be supported alongside mainstream medical services.

Some barriers for CALD families accessing treatment are:

  • language difficulties and lack of availability of translation services and material
  • lack of awareness of treatment options and available services
  • lack of culturally appropriate treatment options or trained workers
  • cultural stigma and shame
  • lack of family and community support
  • insecure living conditions
  • immigration statuses that impact on eligibility for many social and health supports
  • cultural perceptions and spiritual and religious beliefs about health, drugs and alcohol use that may be different to western models of health and harm reduction approaches.

Stigma and shame about alcohol and other drugs use

Perceptions of alcohol and drug use in many CALD communities living in Australia can be rooted in stigma and shame, which has profound consequences at both an individual and community level. The result of this is that families attempt to hide the drug use of a family member while trying to deal with it on their own for as long as possible. Keeping this secret within the family can result in family conflict, family breakdown, turmoil and angst.

In many CALD communities in Australia there is a self-reliant approach when dealing with personal or family problems and challenges, for fear of blame by others in the wider community.

Also—particularly among communities that are small in number—there is a reluctance to tell anyone in the community for fear of community gossip and backlash. These challenges drive issues of use and dependency further underground, outside of community acknowledgement.

Limited service awareness

Often, CALD parents will seek information from friends or relatives rather than health professionals. General practitioners may also be a source for families looking for information about alcohol and drugs; however, this is often a last resort.

Not knowing or understanding the treatment options available isolates CALD parents and families further. Having different spiritual and cultural beliefs about healing and recovery will also guide the types of services looked for or accessed by families.

It is important that you know what services are available when you talk with families so you can be clear about what is involved and expected. You will need to help parents, families and communities access information that will build their knowledge and understanding about problematic alcohol and other drugs use, treatment and recovery.

Communication barriers

Although alcohol and other drugs information is available for CALD communities and translated into one or more community languages, this may not always be the best option. Many communities prefer the sharing of information through face-to-face conversation.

To ensure CALD families have and perceive choice, it is important to ask them if they would prefer a service provider or practitioner who is of the same cultural background as themselves; their choice should not be assumed for them, simply based on their cultural background. (Sawrikar, Katz, 2009.)  

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