Addiction In Immigrant And Refugee Communities
As is the case with any group, some immigrants and refugees suffer from addiction. Because many immigrants and refugees have suffered intense trauma, they may be especially susceptible to seeking out ways to escape or to self-treat their pain. Luckily, there are a number of treatment options available.
Immigrant And Refugee Facts
Most refugees in the US come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burma, Ukraine, Bhutan, Eritrea, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Pakistan, Russia, and Ethiopia. Much of America’s refugee population resides in Texas, Washington, Ohio, California, New York, Arizona, and other states. In 2016, 84,988 refugees moved to the US; this number decreased to 22,405 in 2018.
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Addiction Risk Factors Among Refugees And Immigrants
While being a refugee or immigrant allows someone to escape a turbulent and unsafe country, it may be a struggle to find safety when relocating to another country. Being a refugee can expose someone to challenging conditions that can have a lifelong impact. General risk factors for refugee and immigrant-related substance abuse include:
- Forced migration
- Availability of illicit chemicals in refugee camps
- Exposure to conflict
- Exploitation and mental, physical, and/or sexual abuse, or trafficking
- Exposure to difficult living conditions
- Loss of resources
- Division of family
- Separation anxiety
- The stress of relocation and learning a new language
Along with the traumatic events of family separation and forced displacement, refugees have to battle insecure housing, poor living conditions, and forced relocation. Such events can also trigger complex post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. Reports of major depressive disorder, chronic mental disorders, and grief in cases where children were produced from rape have occurred. Struggles with job displacement, family rejection, social isolation, and lack of resources can make matters worse. Furthermore, such risks can create feelings of instability that can encourage substance abuse.
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Addiction Among Immigrants And Refugees
Substance abuse occurs in immigrant populations for many of the same reasons it occurs in refugees. Although immigrants may have more stable housing compared to refugees, substance abuse can still occur. Statistically, however, immigrants have lower rates of substance abuse compared to American-born individuals. In previous years, only 9% of immigrants had a history of substance use disorder (SUD).
Struggles with job displacement, family rejection, social isolation, and lack of resources can make matters worse. Furthermore, such risks can create feelings of instability that can encourage immigrant and refugee substance abuse.
Alcohol Use Among Refugees
Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substance among refugees. Its legal standing, availability, and effects make it sought out. Refugees are at risk of undergoing depression, hopelessness, trauma, and abuse, and alcohol or illicit substances can seem like a convenient coping mechanism. Male refugees, young adult refugees, and unmarried refugees are at higher risk of having alcohol use disorder (AUD). A survey noted a 36% “prevalence of hazardous alcohol use among Burmese refugees” and “4% possible alcohol dependence.” Among Ugandan refugees, 32% of men and 7% of women had an AUD. Nigerian refugees had a 13% AUD rate. 23% of Nepalese male refugees and 9% of Nepalese women reported AUDs.
AUDs among refugees are especially troubling. Complications stemming from AUDs involve mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and increased risk of suicide. Alcohol and substance abuse can often co-occur with risky sexual behavior, leading to sexually transmitted infections. Experimenting with alcohol can lead to exposure to other lethal substances.
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Mental Health And The Sexual Abuse Of Refugees
Refugee men, women, and children are at risk of physical and sexual violence. Those most vulnerable to sexual exploitation and violence are women and children. Many refugee women were exposed to sexual violence (rape, molestation, sexual harassment) experiences prior to their flight from their country of origin, often times by military personnel and officials.
In other cases, women and girls can be traded for ammunition and other items by male leaders. During flights, women and children risk sexual abuse and can be exploited by smugglers. Lastly, women and children in refugee camps have been raped. Depression, hopelessness, estrangement from family, family shame, low self-worth, suicide, or substance abuse can result.
Find Safe Drug Treatment Today
Painful experiences can breed loneliness, anxiety, and trauma. If you or a loved one battles substance abuse due to trauma from refugee status or immigration-related experiences, contact a treatment provider today. Concerns involving language barriers or religious differences can be taken into account. Women who have been sexually abused can receive counseling and safe housing, and patients of all kinds can receive monitored care and medication. Financial options are available. Call a treatment provider today to find out more about addiction treatment options for immigrants and refugees.
Ashish Bhatt, MD, MRO
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Learn about Dr. Ashish Bhatt
Dr. Bhatt has been Addiction Center's Medical Content Director for more than three years, providing his expertise to ensure quality and accuracy.
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Expert in adult and child psychiatry
Over 20 years of professional experience