Helping the Australian Aborigines
Alcoholism and drug abuse among Australian Aborigines are interlinked with other issues, particularly social issues caused by the impact of hardship, family dispersal, dispossession and colonization (Strong Spirit Strong Mind, 2005). Often, the excessive alcohol consumption by Indigenous people leads to various problems, including violence, health problems, community breakdown, financial breakdown, unemployment and crimes. This issue calls for appropriate policies and practice strategies to bring significant human service delivery in the Aboriginal community.
There are reasons to believe that there is a strong link between alcoholism and substance abuse on one hand, and social problems on the other. In mental health language, there is what is called a co-occurring disorder. A co-occurring disorder exists when a person suffers from both mental illness and substance use disorder (Center for Addiction and Mental Health, 2009). Both disorders affect the person physically, psychologically, socially, and even spiritually. The strong link between mental illness and substance use disorder may be due to several factors. A person suffering from mental illness is vulnerable to drug abuse, and it may be even hard for him to quit. It may also be the case that an identity based on substance abuse or alcoholism is easier to accept than to accept the fact that one is suffering from mental illness. In order to fully recover, both disorders must be addressed.
Though it may not be said that those Australian Aborigines suffering from alcoholism and drug problems are indeed suffering from mental illness, the relationship between mental illness and substance abuse problems may serve as an analogy in explaining the relationship between the social problems that the Australian Aborigines are facing and their alcoholism and drug problems. A person suffering from societal problems is highly susceptible to resorting to substance abuse in order to forget the problems that he has. He might find it more acceptable to call himself alcoholic than to be considered as suffering from social problems. The Aborigines have low health and socio-economic status, which is probably the cause of alcoholism and substance abuse. Alcoholism and substance abuse, therefore, may be interpreted as both a cause and an effect of Aboriginal communities’ social problems like low mental health and socio-economic status, unemployment and crimes. In this light, a holistic approach is needed in order to solve both alcoholism and substance abuse problems on one hand, and co-occurring social issues on the other.
A drinking ban may be implemented in order to at least reduce alcoholism and the problems it may bring. However, a drinking ban would not eradicate the social issues related to Aboriginal alcoholism and substance abuse. According to the Department for Child Protection, Government of Western Australia (2009), the following problems exist: (1) Aboriginal families are caught within a cycle of disadvantage with complex and deep-rooted issues such as poverty, homelessness, and social isolation; (2) Aborigines’ interests are often confused by misunderstanding of cultural issues; and (3) Aborigines often feel that they are being excluded from family support services. These particular issues must be addressed in order to address the social needs of the Aborigines.
As earlier mentioned, a holistic approach is needed to address the problems of Australian Aborigines. A holistic approach refers to a strategy which is all encompassing, seeking to resolve not only the immediate issues but also the other issues relating to Aboriginal communities. We have to consider the individual that we are trying to help, his community, his physical, emotional, and spiritual well being. The strategy must likewise be culturally sensitive so as not to offend the Aboriginal communities’ sense of community and tradition.
We could adopt the plan made by the Drug and Alcohol Office as a practice strategy to address the needs of the Aborigines. The plan has four activity fields, to wit: (1) Prevention and early intervention; (2) Supply and Control; (3) Support and Treatment; and (4) Harm Reduction. Prevention and early intervention activity field avoids the occurrence of the problem of alcoholism and drug abuse. Supply and control activity field is designed to enforce limits on access to alcohol and substances. Support and treatment activity field aims to provide services that are people-centered. Aborigines must be included in care planning processes. Lastly, harm reduction activity field is aimed at the reduction of impact of alcoholism and substance abuse on individuals, families, and communities. Information regarding safer methods of use will be provided in order to reduce the risk or harm that alcoholism and substance abuse may bring.
Another strategy that may be enforced is the encouragement of different agencies to work together. Departments of the government must work together, in cooperation with non-government organizations whose aim is to help the Aborigines. There has to be a proper organization of assistance to be given in order to avoid the possibility of focusing merely on one issue instead of focusing on several issues, or giving more importance to one community instead of giving all communities with equal importance.
It is important to note that every time a social work will be conducted, the welfare of the people will be given paramount importance. In the present case, it will be the welfare of the Australian Aborigines which must be given importance. It would help if the social workers will put themselves on the Aborigines’ shoes in order to better understand the needs of the latter. In such case, the aid that will be provided will reflect more the culture as well as the needs of the Aborigines instead of the culture of those who are trying to help.