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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Risk factors for drug addiction among youth in the Vancouver Downtown East Side : a drug users’ perspective Maimon-Toledano, Iris


The purpose of this thesis was to investigate the phenomenon of drug addiction among youth (aged 13-24 years old) in the Vancouver Downtown East Side (DTES). It was aimed at creating a profile of drug using youth in a local context by understanding their characteristics and the issues affecting their lives; and to learn, partially from the youths' perspective, what were the factors that contributed to the development of addiction in their lives. It also allowed for the expression of the needs of the youths who are affected by drugs and the associated lifestyle, and what they perceive as a potentially effective addiction prevention and intervention program. Thirty one drug using youth who were involved in the DTES were recruited, and personal interviews took place over a period of two months. Interviews were based on a 72 item questionnaire that consisted of open ended questions (aimed at personal perspectives of the participants) and probing, structured questions (based on previous research in the field). The information that was gathered was analyzed on qualitative and quantitative levels, presenting testimonies from participants' life experiences and personal perspectives on addiction. The data were further analyzed with descriptive statistics, correlation tests using Pearson's r, and comparisons between groups of participants using t test for independent means. The study produced a large amount of material. Among the primary findings were the facts that most of the participants were homeless males, who arrived in Vancouver from other provinces, prostituted to support their addiction, and who were involved in the DTES almost solely because of the availability of drugs in the area. A distinction was noted between youth who were associated more with the Granville Street area, who used primarily crystal-methamphetamine, and who prostituted in the West End, versus youth who were more associated with the DTES, used crack, cocaine, or heroin, and prostituted in the area as well. Primary findings pertaining to identified risk factors for drug addiction included the finding of removal from home by social services and upbringing by multiple caregivers among most of the participants; experience of physical or sexual abuse; parental substance abuse; and using drugs as a coping strategy. When examining correlations between different risk factors that were identified in the research, association was found between certain indicators of home atmosphere and dynamics within the family; between parental supervision and children's involvement with violence; and between children's popularity in school and their association with violent activities. Some of the results of comparisons between groups using t tests suggested differences in involvement with violent activities among prostituting youth versus drug dealing youth; greater negative characteristics of child-parent relationships, home atmosphere, and family functioning among children of alcoholic parents; and earlier cigarette smoking among children of drug addicted parents and among children that were placed in out of home care. The study produced a number of conclusions and recommendations for practice and social policy. Among the primary conclusions were the need to provide young children and youth with opportunities to develop and maintain meaningful relationships with their biological family as well as positive relationships with peers; a need to reduce the availability of drugs in the city; and a need to create long term and holistic treatment services for youth.

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