Abstract: Addiction and Substance Use in Muslim-American Communities: Barriers of Shame and Stigma (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

167P Addiction and Substance Use in Muslim-American Communities: Barriers of Shame and Stigma

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Ankita Deka, PhD, Associate Professor, Augsburg University, MN
Salma Ahmed, Student, Augsburg University, MN
Background- Addiction and mental health are stigmatized in Muslim-American communities, thus leading to shame, which inhibits people from seeking professional help and treatment (Arfken & Ahmed, 2016). As with other religious communities in the world, culture and religious diktats play an abiding role in the lives of practicing Muslims. Despite the strong religious influences and social taboos, substance use and addictions continue to remain deeply rooted in the Muslim community globally and in North America (Ahmed & Doukas, 2016).

Methods- In this research study we conducted in-depth interviews with 10 study participants who self-identified as practicing Muslims. The study was conducted in Minneapolis, Minnesota which is home to one of the largest East-African Muslim communities in the United states. 7 of the 10 study participants were survivors of substance use and addictions, and the other 3 participants were mental health providers who worked predominantly in settings that served Muslim-American clients.

Findings- The following themes emerged from the study: shame stigma and self blame, attribution of loss of religiosity, gender differences in perception, impact of structural issues like poverty on substance use and addictions, lack of culturally relevant language for community education on addictions, stigma of mental illness, and importance of access to culturally relevant care and providers. Some of the noteworthy findings are that the sense of rejection and loss of face in the community adds significant challenges in reaching out for help and support for those experiencing substance use and addictions issues. There are significant gender differences in the experiences and outcomes of substance use. Women have a much harder time finding acceptance in families and in society because of their addiction’s history. The perception of promiscuity and immorality are attributed to women thus making it difficult for them to remain engaged in their community or to find marriage partners. The notion of attribution of loss of religiosity downplays the significance of the struggles and impacts individuals negatively. Instead of focusing on health and wellness, complex mental health, substance use and addiction problems are minimized and attributed as a failure to remain religiously diligent. Because there are limited culturally relevant languages in the communities around addictions and substance use, creating awareness and education is challenging. The western language used in the treatment and recovery programs do not find much traction in communities that have very little cultural understanding of the issues. Structural problems such as poverty and lack of resources creates additive challenges.

Implications- Many Muslim-American communities simultaneously face barriers of low-income and poverty that create many risk factors for both incidence and treatment for substance use and addictions. The notion of mental health as a sign of weakness stigmatizes individuals experiencing mental health issues while battling substance use and addictions. Culturally relevant professional services mitigated some of the adverse experiences for the survivors. Both survivors and providers noted the importance of having more Muslim-American professionals in mental health care and substance use and addictions treatment. In conclusion working with faith-based leaders is crucial to impact change.