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Cultural views about alcohol and other drugs use and treatment

Alcohol and other drugs use is understood in different ways across cultures.

You can support a parent’s positive change towards treatment and recovery by understanding their cultural views on drugs, pleasure and dependence.

Negative views of alcohol and other drugs treatment are quite common among CALD communities. In fact, many do not believe services can make a difference to their situation, or feel that what is available is not effective.

There can also be confusion and misconception surrounding drug treatment. These misconceptions vary widely, but more so among ethnic communities (groups that are minorities within a larger cultural group).

One the misconceptions concerns alcohol and other drugs dependence and the view that a fast detox is possible and a long-term solution unnecessary. This often results in repeated relapses. Substitution therapy, such as methadone maintenance therapy, is viewed negatively and shamefully by some communities despite it being the most effective treatment for heroin dependency.

The reality is that many ethnic communities do not understand drug treatment, what is involved, or what to expect for the individual over a long period of time. As a result, they do not always get what they expect from drug treatment services and struggle with long-term recovery. This means culturally appropriate communication and education is needed for CALD parents, families, communities and service providers.

Avoid making assumptions about treatment options and what may be getting in the way for families. Be curious. Ask questions to help you understand what they understand about treatment and recovery, and explore any ambiguity or reluctance to engage with services.

Never assume that a parent or family who is connected to their CALD community will receive treatment and recovery support. Many people with problematic alcohol and other drugs use are shunned or lose titles and roles in their community. In some instances, these may never be regained.

Be mindful of the additional stigma and shame that your role may bring to the family and what this may mean after you leave. How will family members and the community react? Will they minimise or try to hide the alcohol and other drugs problem so that shame isn’t brought to their family or community?

CALD families may also have heard about or had negative experiences in getting treatment for alcohol and other drugs use. These issues are likely to make parents and families respond in a way that seems reluctant, resistant or ignorant. You will need to explore these issues with parents without stigma and labels if you are to build safety and protection. Read more in the Working with parents part of this practice kit.

Further reading

Alcohol and other drug use, attitudes and knowledge amongst six CALD communities in Sydney (2008).

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