Economic Stressors, Social Integration, and Drug Use among Women in an Inner City Community

Article excerpt

This article uses data from a study of 122 adult women drug users residing in the Atlanta, Georgia metropolitan area to identify associations between economic stressors related to occupying disadvantaged statuses, institutional integration, and drug use. The data stem from targeted sampling and ethnographic mapping procedures. The findings suggest that experiencing stressors related to economic circumstance and daily subsistence increased the likelihood of drug use. Results also indicate religious involvement and kinship networks are independently and negatively associated with drug use, but fail to reduce the negative effects of economic stressors on drug use. The author suggests that institutional integration, however limited, may be a formidable deterrent to drug use. Continued identification of multi-level integration sources may inform drug treatment approaches in community programs.


Considerable attention in research has been given to drug-related conditions and resulting circumstances that negatively affect women, with several studies showing a positive relationship between indicators of stress and strain and substance use (Cerbone & Larison, 2000; Klein, Elifson, & Sterk 2003; Sinha, Toshimitsu, Aubin, & O'Malley, 2000). Researchers have explored a myriad of factors that are protective of illicit drug use among women, especially among adolescents (Graves, Fernandez, Shelton, Frabutt, & Williford, 2005; Sale, Sambrano, Springer, & Turner, 2003; Vakalahi, 2001). However, there is a paucity of information to place this issue within the context of social integration, the different levels of which, from organizational to interpersonal, represent opportunities for involvement in and attachment to social surroundings. These provide the potential for network affiliations and institutions to potentially act as a deterrent to drug use, particularly among women marginalized by poverty. This paper, therefore, concentrates on drug use as a social problem, one that has social, health, and legal consequences that are especially detrimental to the lives of the most economically disadvantaged and marginalized. Throughout this inquiry, social statuses and arrangements that shape individuals' networks, affect their values and outlooks, and structure their opportunities and experiences are considered to be the backdrop to virtually all aspects of these women's lives. This paper specifically addresses the potential for protective factors, particularly mainstream resources and opportunities for social integration, to arise under challenges brought about by stressful life circumstances (Getting, Donnermeyer, & Deffenbacher, 1998). Although the cross-sectional design of the study precludes causal inferences from the findings, it is possible to identify associations relevant to more positive outcomes in their lives.

Because the differences between drug users and nonusers may, in part, be due to variation in social circumstances and responses (Sutherland & Shepard, 2001), this analysis of data on a community sample of urban women focuses on three aims to identify: (a) associations between stressors related to disadvantaged social status positions and drug use; (b) the extent to which integration into major social institutions, such as family, economy, and religion, is associated with lower likelihood of illicit drug use; and (c) the extent to which this social integration reduces the impact of stressors in Aim 1 on the likelihood of drug use.


Several studies have addressed the manifold issues related to women's drug use patterns, involvement in the drug use economy and subculture, gender role expectations, and treatment needs over the past three decades (Maher, 1997; Pottieger & Tressell, 2000; Rosenbaum, 1981; Sterk, 1999). Drug use compounds the constellation of problems that many poor and low-income women face in their daily lives. Women who are marginalized by poverty and illicit drug use are often subjected to social control through medical and social service policies (Maher, 1997). …