Winner Tian, General Manager of Asian Family Services, talks to us about a new study that has found that Asian New Zealanders use alcohol and other drugs at higher rates than previously thought.  

Winner Tian was reading the latest NZ Health Survey when he noticed something interesting: 

The number of Asian New Zealanders reporting cannabis use has tripled in the past decade.  

Tian says this self-reported rate remained steady at 1.5%-2% since 2011 but suddenly increased to 4.2% two surveys ago, and then went up to 5.7%. Right now, it sits at around 4.2%. 

Tian set out to find out more. Asian Family Services partnered with Te Puna Whakaiti Pāmamae Kai Whakapiri, the New Zealand Drug Foundation, to produce a new survey looking at Asian New Zealanders' use of, and experiences with, alcohol and other drugs 

This survey found that around 1 in 5 Asian New Zealanders reported using some form of drugs in the past 12 months. One key finding from the survey was that specific subgroups of Asian New Zealanders use alcohol and other drugs at different rates and in different ways, so healthcare and support needs to be tailored to these different patterns of use.  

We spoke to Winner Tian about the survey, and the stigma and surprises they uncovered throughout the process. 

The Level: The study mentions the ‘model minority’ stereotype. Can you say a bit about this stereotype, and how it relates to Asian New Zealanders who use drugs? 

Winner Tian: "The ‘model minority’ stereotype is the idea that because Asians, on average, are economically successful, they don’t have unique needs which mainstream health and support services can’t address. It also plays into the stereotype that ‘Asians don’t use drugs.’ For Asians in NZ, it just means that this already stigmatised topic is even more hidden, compounded by the aggregation of limited alcohol & other drug data, leading to less resources for public health awareness or services."

TL: Was there anything unexpected or surprising that you learned through the study?

WT: "It was surprising how much our anecdotal knowledge was amplified - for example, Chinese people are often spoken about as a group that do not use drugs and are not affected by it. I had personally thought this was driven by taboo and stigma. But in the survey, 1% of Chinese people reported cannabis use vs up to 15% in other Asian ethnic groups. To see this much difference among Asian communities in their self-reported use of drugs really highlighted for me how diverse our Asian communities are. Again, this highlights the need for alcohol and drug support services that are tailored for different Asian populations in New Zealand."

Alcohol is part of life for many people. Photo by Markus Winkler CC BY 2.0

TL: The survey noted some differences in alcohol and drug use between Asian New Zealanders who were born in New Zealand, and ones born overseas. Can you say a bit about that?               

WT: "It’s multifaceted – one challenge is how we define harm, or who is defining what harm is. This will be different in different cultures. The binge drinking culture in NZ youth is clearly seen as a harmful by first generation migrants in general, but feeling obligated to drink at banquet dinners multiple times a week is part of culture and business in Asian cultures so isn't seen as harmful. It is hard to tell from the survey alone (hence the need for qualitative research) whether the differences seen in the survey is due to harm definition or awareness/openness to report alcohol or other drug use, or a combination."

TL: The report recommends that further research could be done – what might that research look like? What do you still want to know more about?         

WT: "We’ve just got approval for some qualitative research to unpack the drivers of alcohol and drug use among the priority groups that were identified in the survey. For example, we'd aim to get perspectives from the Asian rainbow community which reported higher drug use. We'd like to unpack what their views are about use, harm and support. This can help to develop specific guidance for treatment services and health promotion that would be effective for Asian communities."

TL: What would you say to Asian New Zealanders looking for support or info about alcohol or other drugs?       

WT: "I think Asian New Zealanders will be more likely to engage if the messaging is culturally nuanced compared with the mainstream. We are so far away from mainstream in our destigmatisation journey - this has been underserved for Asian people so is an obvious starting point in terms of information. For those who are ready to seek direct support, it can help if they can find a practitioner or support person who understands their world views (for example, collective world view vs individualistic)."

Asian Family Services can help people navigate the process of finding support with their use of alcohol and other drugs, and they have alcohol and drug practitioners in their Asian Wellbeing Services team. You can also reach them through the free and confidential Asian Helpline 0800 862 342, available in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hindi, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese.

We've got more about Asian New Zealanders' experiences with drugs in this article, published in partnership with The Spinoff.

The Level has info and advice about drugs, along with tips on finding support that works for you. 

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