Substance abuse treatment for Somali immigrants in Minnesota

Photo: MPR photo/Laura Yuen

over the last two decades the Somali people started settling into America due to a civil war that had torn their home country apart. Many people had to flee their homes and leave their most valuable belongings.

Many Somalis endured refugee lifestyles and had lived in refugee camps across Kenya. The fortunate ones were sponsored by family members and many social service
agencies. Somalis are attracted to the opportunities Minnesota has to offer; education, ESL classes, a good job with great benefits and best of them all, an opportunity to meet other Somalis.

Some of them are professionals in numerous fields, ready to transfer those skills to their new lives in the U.S. but, unfortunately, others are addicted drugs. For some it is simply a way to
cope with the past. How can we prevent substance abuse for Somali immigrants in Minnesota?

There are many barriers for treatment within this population due to their religious beliefs. In the Islamic religion, it’s a sin to drink alcohol and do drugs. Many people are shunned and lose their
place in the family. They are disowned and feel ashamed and guilty due to these reasons. Addiction is not spoken about in the community and if you have a client you are servicing in
your treatment program, these are some of the things they would want you to know.

Many of the Somali women have also suffered many horrific experiences such as female genital mutilation in Somalia and they drink alcohol to cope with their past trauma. Many Somali men have experienced grief and loss from the civil war and some of them have witnessed rebels and
soldiers doing significant harm to their female relatives.

Special Needs

This population feels underserved when it comes to alcohol and drug treatment because they don’t know how to ask for help. They lack awareness and education about treatment services
available to them. It’s important to be culturally sensitive by providing educational material for this population. It’s also important to adjust the daily schedule in the programming to
accommodate time for the required prayers. A way must be found to incorporate religion as part of their treatment program.

The culture of the Somali people and their religion go hand in hand.It’s important for them to know that forgiveness is possible and what has happened in the past
can be dealt with in healthy ways. They need to believe they can have hope for in the future.

Treatment for drug abuse and addiction is delivered in many different settings using a variety of behavioral and pharmacological approaches. In the United States, more than 14,500 specialized
drug treatment facilities provide counseling, behavioral therapy, medication, case management, and other types of services to persons with substance use disorders. Today, many Somali people
living in Minnesota struggle with substance use issues including alcohol, marijuana and Khat, a stimulant drug that comes from east Africa and Southern Arabia. The main psychoactive
ingredients in Khat are Cathinone and Cathine. It is reported that its use results in similar stimulant effects in the brain and the body.


Family is another great resource for individuals. Some may lack family support and others might have family who are supportive. The family can help break that barrier by helping the family
member with education about addiction. It might be wise to invite them to family night and if the client is hesitant, to encourage them. They might be saying no because they are afraid of what
the family might think of him/her about drinking or drugs. It is important to understand the complex role that families can play in substance abuse treatment.

They can be a source of help to the treatment process, but they also must manage the consequences of the person’s addictive behavior. Individual family members are concerned about the IP’s substance abuse, but they also have their own goals and issues. Providing services to the whole family can improve treatment

Drug addiction is a serious problem for Somali immigrants who can be treated and managed throughout its course. Effective drug abuse treatment engages participants in a therapeutic
process, retains them in treatment for an appropriate length of time, and helps them learn to maintain abstinence. Multiple episodes of treatment may be required. Outcomes for drug abusing
offenders in the community can be improved by monitoring drug use and by encouraging continued participation in treatment. In treatment, the drug abuser is taught to break old patterns
of thinking and behaving and to learn new skills for avoiding drug use and criminal behavior.

Individuals with severe drug problems and co-occurring disorders typically need longer treatment (e.g., a minimum of 3 months) and more comprehensive services. Early in treatment,
the drug abuser begins a therapeutic process of change. In later stages, he or she addresses other problems related to drug abuse and learns how to manage them as well.

by Mohamoud Hussein
MA Health and Human Administration
Psychotherapist and Clinical Social Worker LGSW




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