Why You Need Cultural Competence in Addiction Treatment

Cultural competence in addiction treatment helps remove roadblocks and connect those seeking help with life-saving services.

Nearly 21 million Americans are affected by at least one addiction, but only 10% ever receive treatment.1 That percent shrinks to less than 1% for minorities.2 And, since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has served only to make this problem worse.3

Substance use disorders aren’t limited by race, ethnicity, or any other measurable demographic factor. But there are cultural factors associated with every demographic group that affect the likelihood of developing and overcoming a substance use disorder. Those same characteristics impact patients’ ability and willingness to accept treatment. Sensitivity to these differences is called cultural competence, and it’s something addiction treatment marketers need to understand.

Although new to some, cultural competence in addiction treatment should influence most of your digital marketing decisions. But what is cultural competence, exactly?

What is Cultural Competence?

Each of us has a culture informed by where and to whom we were born, the religion(s) we were influenced by, the music we listened to, the expectations of etiquette in our home and social settings—even the food we were served. You don’t have to acknowledge these variables. They’re ingrained in you whether you like it or not.

Your culture has a huge impact on your day-to-day decisions, including how you deal with a substance use disorder. Culture makes some resistant to treatment and others open. Some find help easily, while others struggle with accepting they need help. Culture plays a huge role, which is why cultural competence is so necessary for a successful addiction treatment center.

Cultural competence is practical.4 It requires understanding the intrinsic variables affecting each client to provide quality treatment regardless of their beliefs, behaviors, and values. Demonstrating cultural competence goes beyond just knowing the cultural factors that may affect a client’s treatment to also being sensitive to those factors and approaching treatment accordingly. In short, cultural competence positions you to provide services most effectively.

Of course, the definition of cultural competence and how it’s used in treatment has to evolve.

Cultural Competence in Addiction Treatment

A patient’s cultural background is a result of the blending of innumerable elements, influences, and characteristics. So while every individual is different, understanding and appropriately incorporating the aspects of their culture that affect addiction and recovery is imperative.


The effect, influence and support of family can be the difference between recovery and relapse.5 No family is the same, but an understanding of how family is viewed in a specific culture will help you use that relationship appropriately. If substance abuse is typically seen as shameful in a specific culture, you can tweak your counseling approach. For example, in some cultures both immediate and extended family may want to participate in the recovery journey. In others, even close family members may not want to involve themselves.


A person’s spirituality can be one of the most profound parts of their culture. Faith impacts the way they view their actions, their willingness to seek treatment—and in what capacity. Understanding, acknowledging and incorporating faith-based traditions into your treatment program can significantly increase the chance of recovery.


You can’t help a client if you can’t communicate with them. A person in treatment who is linguistically isolated is going to feel alienated and alone, exactly the opposite of what they need to experience for a successful recovery. Fear of not being understood can lead some to avoid treatment altogether. So if your treatment center commonly serves clients that speak other languages, a multilingual staff is a must-have.

We can help you highlight your cultural competence in your digital marketing strategy. Call us at 877.958.9180 to get started.


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