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The Impact of Race on Rehab Success

Ethnic minorities in public treatment programs are at a disadvantage, suggests a new study.

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Different chances of success?
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By Chrisanne Grise

01/08/13

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Ethnicity may be a factor in predicting how likely a person entering rehab for alcohol abuse is to complete the program, new research indicates. According to the study—published in the journal Health Affairs—about half of all black and Hispanic patients in publicly funded alcohol treatment programs drop out early, while 62% of white patients complete their programs. Native Americans are also less likely than whites to finish; Asian Americans, meanwhile, are more likely than whites to complete both drug and alcohol treatment. “Our findings show troubling racial disparities in the completion of alcohol and drug abuse programs, and they point specifically to socioeconomic barriers that make it difficult for minority groups to access and sustain treatment,” says study author Brendan Saloner, PhD. Significantly, in both the alcohol and drug treatment groups, black and Hispanic individuals were more likely than white patients to be homeless. “Patients living in poverty may be more likely to receive treatment in an environment with high social distress, weak social support, or few economic opportunities,” Saloner says, explaining that these factors could make it more difficult for a patient to finish the program.

Experts hope that this situation can be changed soon, but it may take longer. “Unfortunately, it’s possible that funding for treatment programs may be limited in the future as states and the federal government look for ways to trim spending on public programs,” says Saloner. “However, in the long run, these reductions in spending on treatment programs may lead to increased spending for corrections and emergency department admissions.” Researchers add that the Affordable Care Act should make it easier for minorities to receive better care, thanks to broadened Medicaid funding. And the study also suggests that residential treatment programs may reduce the disadvantages experienced by minorities: “Disparities among the groups were found to be lower in residential treatment settings," says Saloner, "indicating that access to residential treatment could be particularly valuable for these patients.” 

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