Treatment trajectories of ethnic minorities in substance abuse treatment

Research Period

October 2006 - September 2007


Federal Science Policy



Key Words

ethnic-cultural minorities, drug treatment, treatment trajectories


International research has shown that illicit drug users from an ethnic-cultural minority experience difficulties in contacting drug treatment services. Various barriers may influence accessibility of alcohol and drug treatment services. In addition, the further treatment trajectory of substance users from ethnic-cultural minority groups seems to be problematic.

Research aims

The central question is whether drug users who belong to an ethnic-cultural minority make less often or in a different way an appeal to the existing drug treatment services and – in addition to this – to what extent they turn to an alternative offer. There were three specific aims:

  1. The comparison of the treatment trajectories of substance users from ethnic-cultural minorities and users of the general population;
  2. To identify which factors and mechanisms influence the treatment trajectory, and to what extent;
  3. The formulation of specific recommendations towards the practice.


The theoretical part – existing of a literature study complemented with findings from explorative interviews with key-figures from the field – concentrated on mapping the existing research and theories on the research subject.  The quantitative part combined three different sets of data in order to compare the trajectories of treatment form clients from an ethnic-cultural minority to the rest of the general population.  With the qualitative study we wanted to interpret the findings from the previous phases and gain more in-depth information. This part of the research consisted of semi-structured interviews with (ex-)drug users from ethnic-cultural minorities in four metropolitan areas (Antwerp, Brussels, Charlerloi and Ghent). Given the heterogeneity of the research population and the fact that the two largest non-European minority groups in Belgium are those with a Turkish or Moroccan origin, we restricted this part to respondents with a Turkish or Moroccan origin. In a second qualitative part we checked the findings from the previous part to a forum of key-figures and experts from the field during focus groups. Finally, we visited a number of “interesting practices” abroad to gain insight in some successful initiatives. 

Findings, conclusions and recommendations

During this research it became clear that we cannot separate the trajectory of treatment of drug users (from an ethnic-cultural minority) from the trajectory of drug use and the individual trajectory of life; we speak off a trajectory system. Through the different research parts we found that the trajectory system of ethnic-cultural minorities cannot be defined in a univocal way. Thus, one of the main conclusions of this research is that mainly individual factors determine the nuanced process of the trajectories, and this as well for the use of drugs as for the use of treatment. The ideas, found in the international literature, that ethnic-cultural minorities are underrepresented in the drug treatment and that they drop-out sooner, were not supported. These drug users do find their way to the drug treatment services. Differences in demographic and social characteristics, and in patterns of drug use were found between clients of drug treatment services from ethnic-cultural minorities and from the rest of the general population. Moreover, qualitative differences in the use of treatment services were identified. One of the main findings of the qualitative research is the importance of alternative coping mechanisms to deal with drug problems. Regarding the influencing factors for the trajectory of treatment this research points out that barriers, at different levels, are mainly an individual en temporal given. An inclusive policy for all drug users, transcultural methods and tailored care are important basic principles to ensure that the treatment services meet the needs and necessities of all drug users.

Valorisation: publications and lectures

  • BROEKAERT, E., CARTUYVELS, Y, DECORTE, T., DERLUYN, I., FRANSSEN, A & VANDERPLASSCHEN, W. (2008), Treatment trajectories of drug users from ethnic minorities. Presentation at the Colloquium 'Drug research commissioned by the Belgian Science Policy Office, a European context', Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe, 8 oktober 2008.
  • DERLUYN, I., VANDERPLASSCHEN, W., ALEXANDRE, S., STOFFELS I. et al (2008). Zorgtrajecten van druggebruikers uit etnisch-culturele minderheden - Trajectoires de soin des usagers de drogues d'origine étrangère. Gent: Academia Press.