Profile of Substance Use and Perspectives on Substance Use Pathways among Incarcerated Aboriginal Women


Although both the overrepresentation of Aboriginal women in the correctional system and the prevalence of substance abuse among them are well known, we know little about the pathways of psychoactive substance (PAS) consumption among incarcerated Aboriginal women. In a study performed in the five principal women’s penitentiaries in Canada, 39 Aboriginal women were interviewed to better understand their path of PAS consumption. The quantitative results indicate that a large portion of these women described their consumption as problematic prior to their incarceration, and one in five reported having used illicit substances in prison. Use of medication during incarceration was relatively uncommon despite the high incidence of psychological disorders reported. Three themes regarding the pathways of PAS consumption emerge from the qualitative data analyzed: 1) principal motives for initiating usage, 2) evolution of these motives and the reason given for their consumption, and 3) impacts of usage on the individual’s life trajectory. Respondents believed that their consumption was chiefly linked to a need to diminish psychological suffering, whether this was the case at the start of their usage pattern or it developed during its evolution. The respondents’ accounts also refer to familial and societal rifts that appear to have contributed to psychological suffering. Results support the use of early addiction prevention programs based on the acquisition of personal competencies and of integrated correctional programs during and after incarceration to target social factors that confer high risk.

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