Connecting Refugees to Substance Use Treatment: A Qualitative Study


Social Work

Date of this version


Document Type



refugees, substance use treatment, referrals, coordination of care




An emerging body of literature identifies substance use as a growing concern among refugees resettling in the United States. Like immigrants, refugees may face cultural, linguistic, or systems barriers to connecting with mainstream substance use treatment programs, which may be compounded by refugees' unique experiences with exposure to trauma, displacement in refugee camps, and resettlement. This qualitative study explores factors that support and prevent refugees from connecting with chemical health treatment. Fifteen participants who identified as social service or public health professionals who work with refugees responded to an online, semi structured survey about their experiences referring refugees to substance use treatment. Resulting data was analyzed using thematic analysis. Themes emerged identifying a lack of culturally informed treatment models, policy issues, and client characteristics such as motivation and past trauma as barriers to engaging with treatment. Ongoing case management and coordination were identified as important to successful linkage. Findings from this study contribute to a better understanding of how to support refugees seeking substance use treatment and suggest that developing trauma informed, culturally relevant models of treatment that are integrated with primary health care and geographically accessible may enhance treatment linkage.





Published in

Social Work in Public Health

Citation/Other Information

McCleary, J. S., Shannon, P. J., & Cook, T. L. (2016). Connecting refugees to substance use treatment: A qualitative study. Social Work in Public Health, 31(1), 1-8. https://doi.org/10.1080/19371918.2015.1087906