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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versão On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versão impressa ISSN 0041-4751


SLABBERT, Ilze. "Eventually I ended up on the street; it's a hard life": Challenges experienced by vulnerable women who abuse alcohol or drugs. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2019, vol.59, n.4, pp.671-684. ISSN 2224-7912.

There are a significant number of people who live under the breadline in South Africa. Especially women and children are vulnerable when they end up on the streets, owing to a number of reasons such as economic hardship and unemployment. Women are also often caregivers of their young children and to seek fulltime employment is not always feasible. Several of these vulnerable women resort to alcohol or drug abuse as a means to at least temporarily cope with their problems. It is usually social workers who render services to vulnerable groups and in this instance to vulnerable women. The aim of this study was to explore the challenges experienced by vulnerable women who abuse alcohol or drugs, in order to improve service rendering by social workers. There is an increase worldwide in the abuse of harmful substances. Although statistics indicate that more men than women succumb to substance abuse, affected women often do not seek help, owing to several factors such as the stigma attached thereto, and the lack of sufficient services to assist them. Research indicates that economic hardship could contribute to substance abuse. Little research has been done on the unique challenges facing vulnerable women who are prone to substance abuse. These women often end up on the street, heightening the risks of their falling prey to violence and sexual assault. The ecological perspective was chosen as a theoretical framework for this study as the different systems could shed light on the research question: "What are the challenges of vulnerable women who resort to substance abuse?" Stressful situations could contribute to a life of substance abuse. Especially women who leave their families for a life on the streets are suffering emotional stress. The three levels of the ecological perspective that were utilised were the micro, meso and macro levels. A qualitative approach of an exploratory nature was chosen to meet the goal of the study, namely to explore the challenges facing vulnerable women succumbing to alcohol and drugs as a last resort. An NGO was approached to collect a sample of 15 participants. Criteria for inclusion were that the participants had to be women; over 21 years old; had to have used alcohol and/or drugs during the course of the study or six months prior to the study; had to be sober during the interviews; and had to be clients of the NGO that delivered the sample. Data were collected by means of a semi-structured interview guide. The interviews were recorded with the permission of the participants and transcribed by the researcher. Ethical clearance was obtained for the study. The data were analysed and categorised into relevant themes. Data verification was also done by member checking and the use of an independent coder. The study was limited in that only a small sample was used and that it was done only in the Western Cape. Theme 1 concerned a traumatic childhood. All participants had lived through a traumatic childhood and still struggled in adulthood to work through different issues. Significantly, a number of the participants' own family members were directly or indirectly responsible for the childhood trauma. Theme 2 pertained to difficulties in adulthood varying from subjecting to violence, being cheated on, having been victims of rape, serving jail terms, living on the streets, and attempting suicide. Closely related to theme 2, are challenges in the environment (theme 3). Notable stumbling blocks pertained to participants living with sickness, relationship challenges, gang violence, hunger and conflict with the police. The abuse of alcohol or drugs, as well as the misuse of pain killers as a coping mechanism was identified as theme 4. One of the participants also struggled with a dual diagnosis of bipolar disorder and substance use disorder. Hope was identified as the 5th theme. Despite the listed challenges, some participants still retained a flicker of hope and resilience, wishing to improve their lives and reclaim custody of their children. It can be concluded that vulnerable women who abuse alcohol or drugs face several challenges and that specialised intervention is needed to help them to come to terms with childhood trauma, adversities in adult life, challenges in the environment and, in addition to all of the above, with substance dependency. More research is recommended, specifically focused on vulnerable women who succumb to substance abuse.

Palavras-chave : Women; substance abuse; vulnerable; ecological perspective; micro level; meso level; macro level; qualitative study; challenges; childhood trauma; adversities in adult life.

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