Whats the difference?

Statistics show that women take longer to come into treatment compared to men. There are many obstacles for female substance misusers to seek proffessional treatment and to see it out until the end. This is much more so when we look at Muslim females with addictions.

For many reasons Muslim female substance users feel unable to seek help, much often due to the taboo or stigma attached to being a woman who uses drugs or alcohol. Very often, the family of female Muslim addicts react in ways that can hinder the journey for their loved-one to get the professional help they need.

Isn’t it time this changed?

Isn’t it time that our Muslim female addicts had as much access to treatment as their western counterparts, or male substance users? Isn’t it time Muslim parents realised that there is no shame in their daughter seeking help for their addiction. That the embarrassment of her entering a drug service is nothing compared to the consequences of her continuing in her addiction? Possible pregnancies, drug dependent babies, risk of blood born viruses like Hepatitis, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases not to mention the risk of being in dangerous situations with dangerous people. These are all issues that can surround women when they become involved in substances and an addictive way of life. The shame of entering treatment is what stops Muslim women coming into a service and getting the help they need to change.

Services need to be made more aware of how to best outreach this group of women and how to best retain them in treatment. Professionals need to be culturally aware of the kinds of barriers that Muslim women have to accessing services.

Muslim women generally require privacy, often at first wanting to meet for one to one sessions in preferance to intimidating group talk sessions with a male dominated group. In time, once their confidence has been lifted they may wish to join the larger group but professionals need to be aware that this may take time.

In my experience female only services work really well with Muslim women. During my time at nafas, a culturally sensitive service in East London, Muslim women came out of the shadows when they heard of the new female only service available there. They began to thrive on this opportunity to address their addiction, away from men and explore their private and often very difficult issues.

The majority of female drug users have experienced abuse as a child as well as domestic violence from partners during their teens and adulthood. There are many issues that Muslim female addicts feel unable to explore in groups with male clients or even with male counsellors and drug workers. Wherever possible, Muslim women in most cases, prefer a female-only environment, where they feel safer exploring their feelings.

However, at the same time, I have also seen Muslim women flourish from mixed services, and in the absence of female only agencies Muslim women must not feel anxious about seeking help there. Some help is better than no help. Treatment is the only way forward. Muslim women generally find it harder to get better without professional help compared to men. There is often added pressures and responsibilities for women, especially when they are expected to care for others domestically.  It may be that their partner or husband is addicted and yet to seek help for himself, thus prolonging the change for the wife to get help for herself or her husband not encouraging her to change. She will often have many other secondary issues to address alongside her addiction, such as low self-worth, anxiety, depression and so on. It is important that Muslim women are encouraged into treatment and that as a society and community we overcome the taboo that prevents them from doing so.

Lynne Ali-Northcott (former co-ordinator of female only drug service and addiction counsellor)

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