Substance Misuse Through the Lens of Black History Month

February 21, 2024

By: The BACH Group

Earl N. Benjamin-Robinson, DrHSc, CPH

Michael L. Benjamin-Robinson, DSW, LCSW-BACS

The idea of Black History Month was born out of the efforts of Carter G. Woodson and Jesse E. Moorland. These men founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). The ASNLH served to empower Black Americans by promoting their accomplishments. In 1976, President Gerald Ford formally recognized Black History Month. For Black History Month and beyond, we encourage those working to eliminate or reduce social stressors for Black Americans and other populations experiencing unfair, unjust, and avoidable behavioral health or substance use disparities to incorporate and support the following actions-practices within their work:

  1. Build your and your organization’s understanding of Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) - especially related to stress - and use this understanding to inform services. Developing one’s knowledge of SDoH will aid one’s or an organization’s abilities to be better prepared to respond to substance use inequities and their root causes. Suppose we authentically work to increase our understanding of how social or economic factors are contributing to substance use inequities. In that case, this can support better attempts to create culturally appropriate prevention and treatment services.
  2. Operate from a trauma-informed approach. Working from a trauma-informed approach requires one “to understand how violence and victimization have figured in the lives of …consumers of mental health, substance use, and other services… A trauma informed approach … perceives trauma not simply as a past event but as a formative one that may be contributing to the client’s current state or circumstances … Additionally, efforts are made so no more harm is done and client safety is ensured by minimizing the possibilities of injury or re-traumatization in clinical or other service settings. (Bulter et al., 2011)
  3. Increase health literacy efforts around substance use disorders in Black communities. Those working in substance use prevention and treatment services must play a critical role in creating health literacy efforts within their programs that are culturally relevant and that speak to the culture and the experiences of Black Americans.
  4. Do your part to advance health equity. It is essential for those working in substance use prevention and treatment services to understand that due to social, racial, and economic inequities, many Black Americans (disproportionately) are not having the same experiences that support people in reaching their optimal health or well-being. Thus, substance use prevention and care providers should enact changes in their organization/system and communities/states, urging actions that help Black Americans impacted by their SDoH. Providers can use health data and evidence-based clinical knowledge to recommend expansion of both substance misuse prevention programming/services and health coverage, including behavioral health coverage, to all individuals with limited care access.


Amaro, H., Sanchez, M., Bautista, T., & Cox, R. (2021). Social vulnerabilities for substance use: Stressors, socially toxic environments, and discrimination and racism. Neuropharmacology, Volume 188,108518, ISSN 0028-3908,

Butler, L. D., Critelli, F. M., & Rinfrette, E. S. (2011). Trauma-informed care and mental health. Directions in Psychiatry, 31(3), 197–212. Retrieved from

Centers For Disease Control & Prevention. (2024). Why Is Addressing Social Determinants of Health Important for CDC and Public Health? Retrieved from CDC

Cornerstone Recovery. (N.D.). Addiction and Black History Month: Past, present and future challenges – Special Report. Retrieved from Corner Stone of Recovery

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2024). Social Determinants of Health – Definition. Retrieved from

Robert Wood Johnson. (2011). How Social Factors Shape Health: The Role of Stress [Issue Brief Series: Exploring The Social Determinants Of Health Stress And Health] Retrieved from

University of Southern California. (2023). 6 Examples of Health Disparities and Potential Solutions. Retrieved from Healthadmin

Williams, M. (2023). The Origins of Black History Month and Why We Celebrate It. Retrieved from: City Year

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