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Addiction and Refugees and Immigrants

There were roughly 19.9 million refugees in the world in 2017. In 2016, America helped 85,000 refugees seek safety from unstable, and dangerous countries. Learn about the impact of immigrants and refugee lifestyles that can lead to addiction.

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Addiction in the Immigrant and Refugee Communities

As is the case with any group, some immigrants and refugees suffer from addiction. Because many 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.

Immigrants and Refugee Facts

Most refugees in the United States come from the Democratic Republic of 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, decreasing to 22,405 in 2018.

Addiction Risk Factors Among Refugees and Immigrants

While being a refugee or immigrant allows someone to escape a turbulent and unsafe country, he or she may struggle in finding safely while 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
  • Acute humanitarian emergency
  • 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
  • Isolation
  • 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 produced from rape can occur. 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 occur in immigrant populations for the same reasons it occurs for refugees. Although immigrants may have more stable housing compared to refuges, substance abuse can occur to offset any mental or emotional challenges. Statistically, immigrants have lower rates of substance abuse compared to American-born individuals. In previous years, only 9% of immigrants had a history of a substance abuse disorder.

Alcohol use varied in immigrant groups in previous years, with 50.3% of alcohol use occurring in Mexican immigrant groups; 57.5%, 56% of alcohol use in Cuban immigrant groups; 48.9% in El Salvadorian immigrant groups, 62.1% in Jamaican immigrant groups, 69% in Japanese immigrant groups, 63% in Korean immigrant groups, 72% in German immigrant groups, and 75% in Polish immigrant groups.

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 an alcohol use disorder. 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 alcohol use disorder. Nigerian refugees had a 13% alcohol use disorder rate. 23% of Nepalese male refugees. and 9% of Nepalese women reported alcohol use disorders.

Alcohol use disorders among refugees is especially troubling. Complications stemming from alcohol abuse disorders involve mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and increased risk of suicide. In many cases, alcohol and substance abuse has a higher risk of the HIV epidemic and risky sexual behavior, leading to sexual transmitted infections. Experimenting with alcohol can lead to the exposure of other, more lethal substances.

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Mental Health and The Sexual Abuse of Refugees

Refuge men, women and children are at risk of physical and sexual violence. Those most vulnerable to sexual exploitation and violence are women and children. Unaccompanied women and lone heads of household are more at risk, and children in foster care families (and children in general) are at risk. Many refugee women were exposed to sexual violence (rape, molestation, sexual harassment) experiences prior to their flight from their country of origin, and often times by military personnel and officials.

In other cases, women and girls can be traded for ammunition and other items arranged 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, as “there is little to no protection.” The effect has led to depression, hopelessness, estrangement from family, family shame, low self-worth, suicide, or substance abuse.

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Find Safety For Drug Treatment Today

Painful experiences in being a refugee or immigrant can breed loneliness, anxiety, and trauma. If you or a loved one battles substance abuse due to his or her trauma from refugee or immigration-related experiences, contact a dedicated treatment provider today. Concerns involving language barriers or religious differences can be taken into account with faith-based treatment. Women who have been sexually abused can receive counseling and safe housing, and patients 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.