Immigrants and Substance Use Disorders: A Legal and Medical Perspective

The African Coalition works to provide accessible mental health services to immigrant communities, as there is a dire need for mental health resources among this population. With Substance Use Disorder stemming from past trauma, it is our job to understand intersectionality and break down any form of stigma that our clients might be experiencing.

However, the U.S. Immigration law often demonizes people who take drugs, labeling them as “drug abusers and addicts,” “habitual drunkards”, and alcoholics.” This portrays them as morally weak, evil, or even dangerous. Immigrants who come within such a category can be denied immigration relief and naturalization. Immigration attorneys and medical doctors of the Immigration advocacy group examine the issue through the lens of Immigrants. 1

From a scientific standpoint, it is important to note that these people might be suffering from a Substance Use Disorder (SUD), a medical condition that often arises after the person has undergone severe trauma. Substance Use Disorder is a growing health crisis that currently affects over 20 million people in the United States. The African Coalition raises awareness of substance abuse issues commonly influenced by trauma and stigma around mental health, differences in cultural understanding of mental illnesses, and inaccessibility due to socioeconomic status. Additional frequent barriers to mental health care are insufficient cultural understanding and unawareness of internal biases by mental health professionals, and a mono-cultural standard for mental health interventions.

1 Brady, Kathy, et al. Immigrants and Substance Use Disorders: A Legal and Medical Perspective, 23 Aug. 2023, pp. 2–5,