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Nadra Ensi in his op-ed entitled: “Perils of Black Male Invisibility” wrote that “…..Some of these invisible men choose two highly destructive responses: becoming thugs or addicts whose ritual violations and self-medication create a revolving door of arrest and deepening problems. Employed men who pierced the visibility veil often tip-toe inside work places fearing becoming once more unseen.”
When it comes to a comprehensive analysis of addictions, contextualization informs adequate, culturally competent interventions grounded in accountability tempered with compassion. Mainstream drug rehabilitation treatment models are famously culturally and socially detached from the historic realities and generational trauma experienced by Blacks in general and Black men in particular. This leads to addictions being treated in isolation of their historic context.
Torrance Stephens, Ph.D., in his work “Epidemic Drug Abuse: Still a Problem for Black Men” says “drug abuse and addiction continue to ravage the African -American community and are particular impediments for African -American men. The impact on the community has manifested in disparities in employment opportunity, academic achievement, and other measures both economic and health-related. High risk factors for substance use disorders for African- Americans include family history of substance use and experiencing the pervasive stress unique to being African -American due to racism and discrimination.”
For those entering into the world of “drug rehab” they’re required to admit their powerlessness over their drugs of choice, and are urged to adopt the identity of addict or alcoholic as reminders of the disease they suffer from for which there’s no cure. The fragile addict switches obsessions from a daily preoccupation with getting high to chronic preoccupation with staying sober. His only hope for sustained sobriety is a lifelong commitment to regularly attend peer lead anonymous fellowship meetings (i.e., AA, NA, etc.).
Speaking of rehab/treatment effectiveness, Enoch Gordis, Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism ( NIAAA) stated the following: “In the case of alcoholism, our whole treatment system, with its innumerable therapies, armies of therapists, large and expensive programs, endless conferences, innovation and public relations activities is founded on hunch not evidence, and not science…” What’s so significance about this is that it was Enoch Gordis who implemented the $27 million dollar campaign attempting to prove “Treatment Works”!
Psychological studies have shown that the way people react to drugs in general is as much a function of their cultural background, expectations, and emotional involvement in the situation as of the chemistry of the drug. These “treatments” if they’re to be physically and emotionally regenerative, must provide a wide range of tools to facilitate the creation of conditions under which these men can learn new, successful behaviors and attitudes. Enough with the cookie cutters!
Lastly, the idea of assimilating an identity entirely framed by a past behavior (“I used to get high!”) and making that the centerpiece of ones existence, is psychologically and spiritually obscene. No one should be forced to live in the shadows of an identity that looks more like a tracking devise, designed to keep people dysfunctional by design. If “recovery” is open-ended and does not lead to wholeness and wellness, it’s just another prison…with revolving doors.
Victor R. Pond is a Contributor to healthyblackmen.org and currently Director of Policy, Research and Community Health at GRIOT Circle, a non-profit community based organization located in Brooklyn, NY, that provides psycho-social services to the LGBT elders of African descent (over 50).