Black women hit hard by chemical dependency


OpenEyessquareAs the weather begins to improve and we plan for all the cookouts, graduations, holidays and birthday parties, one thing that will not be forgotten is the drinks. It would not be a party without them, right? Some of us cannot wait for happy hour to start right now so we can go and get two-for-ones.

Do not have any shame in your game. Many of us have been there, needing something to take the edge off from a stressful day. But what about when every day is stressful? What about when everything is keeping you on edge? What about when two drinks are not enough?

I do not want to kill your vibe, but we have to ask ourselves these questions. It is stressful enough living in a society that offers you adverse experiences over and over.

The Black community is in emotional, spiritual, and physical pain. Drugs (both illegal and legal) and alcohol have been two of the main coping mechanisms in the Black community for a long time — next to the Black church, of course. Like the joke goes that we often heard in our families, “Even Jesus turned water into wine.”

Chemical dependency programs are not new to the Black community. They have been here for many years. Some have come and gone. Others have taken many different forms.

A new Relapse Prevention Support program at the Family Partnership is one of those innovative need programs. The program serves both women and men. The PRIDE women’s Relapse Prevention Support program is a nontraditional program that is culturally specific and that supports women with understanding the connection between trauma, chemical dependency, and mental health.

The PRIDE women’s support program is led by Arlene Walker. Ms. Walker has been a licensed alcohol and drug counselor for six years. Walker states, “One thing that our [Black] people struggle with is that we do not know we have a problem.”

Asked what makes chemical dependency of Black women unique, Walker states, “We have to deal with all the issues that are interconnected with the chemical dependency. A lot of times we are trying to find a relief. The drugs and alcohol become a way to try and manage. But, it causes more damage.”

One major effect of the crack (War on Drugs) era was the impact the culture had on women, especially the drug crack cocaine. This was one of the first drugs to have a detrimental effect on Black women, according to Walker, due to “just plain old 6512-000006lack of guidance, seeing our young girls becoming parents younger and younger, and they haven’t been parented themselves. What we do as a part of the support group is learn how to be okay with asking for help and support as we address the above issues along with substance abuse, trauma and mental illness.”

Another thing we must not brush over is the impact that drugs had on the Black community. It was not just about people getting high and hooked on drugs. It was a lifestyle, a culture, and an economic system. This destroyed an already fragile family structure.

This era affected everyone in the community. Many Black women were hit hard. Many Black males began to be incarcerated at alarming rates. The children became the most victimized.

According to Walker, “Everybody was affected. During the ‘80s we lost our women. Historically, women have been the backbone. Women are the connectors, we are the nurturers, and we are the ones who grow the children up. In the ‘80s, the family unraveled. The women were out of the home. Children were fending for themselves. Not only was daughter using, but grandma was using too!”

There has been a ripple effect that continues to vibrate from one generation to the next. Our pain is still present. Our victimization is still present. Our healing is still needed.

Drugs and alcohol have been instruments of our healing for too long and have caused more harm than good. However, we have a culture that supports drug and alcohol usage. We do not know when too much is too much.

We are using what we believe will help, but we continue to hurt. One thing about drugs and alcohol is that they numb the pain in the moment. When you are in survival mode, as the Black community is currently, the moment is the most important concern. This is due to our trauma.

The way we deal with our stress and emotional pain is by numbing it in the moment. This is not healing. Once that numbness is over, we look for the next high to get us by. This is dangerous.

If you or a woman you know needs support with chemical dependency, the PRIDE Relapse Prevention Support program may be a good place to heal. Call Arlene Walker at 612-728-2081. The groups meet twice a week both in South and North Minneapolis, and they are free of charge. In Walker’s words, “Excuses are tools for the incompetent, used to build moments of nothing.”


Brandon Jones M.A. is a mental health practitioner. He welcomes reader responses to or follow him on Twitter @UniversalJones.