Culture is defined as “a system of patterns of belief and behavior that shape the worldview of the member of a society.” Because of that, culture is an integral part of recovery from substance use and mental health disorders.
Research shows us that sociocultural beliefs shape behavior regarding behavioral health. Culture plays a central role in forming individual expectations about issues related to drugs, alcohol, and mental illness. Acculturation, the degree to which an individual identifies with his/her/their native culture, is also related to behavioral health. For example, American Indian elders believe that many substance use problems are related to the loss of traditional culture. Higher rates of substance use have been found in persons who closely identify with non-American Indian values and the lowest rates are found in bicultural individuals who are comfortable with both sets of cultural values.
As healthcare professionals, it’s particularly important to consider a patient’s cultural background when assessing for substance use or dependence. Rather than assuming, we should ask each patient to talk about:
1) cultural identity/identification;
2) cultural explanation of the illness;
3) cultural factors related to psychosocial environment and levels of functioning;
4) cultural elements of the relationship between the individual and the clinician, and
5) overall cultural assessment for diagnosis and care.
Knowing how culture affects an individual patient’s behavioral health beliefs and attitudes will help us reach out to family members, tribal groups, families, traditional healers, religious entities, legal authorities, and local health care providers – all of whom can all be involved in our patient’s healing and recovery process.
Learn more about: culture and recovery