Psychosocial functions of drug using and selling among young persons in Malmö who came to Sweden as unaccompanied refugee minors

Friday, 25 November, 2022 - 13:20 to 14:50


During the European 'migration wave' in 2015/2016, Sweden received the relatively greatest number of unaccompanied refugee minors (URM), the majority being boys of Afghan origin. Already in 2016/17, Swedish researchers and authorities called attention to the risk of URM using legal and illegal drugs to cope with psychosocial challenges and adversities, unmet needs, and lacking protection factors. Yet, very little scientific, particularly qualitative knowledge exists on drug use/dependence in URM and no research on drug selling within this group. To bridge this research gap, we qualitatively investigated motivations for, functions of, and paths into drug using and selling among young persons, who came to Sweden as URM.

We conducted in-depth interviews in Malmö with 11 Afghan young men, who came to Sweden as URM, with current or previous experience of drug selling and/or using and 12 professionals working with URM. Interviews took place between June 2019 and December 2021. We employed a grounded theory-based analysis supported by the software MAXQDA.

Analysis of the earlier interviews revealed 'not having a real life' of especially young men without residence permits as a central motor in selling and/or using illicit drugs. Using and selling can serve psychosocial functions such as self-medication, strengthening feelings of meaning, self-efficacy, and social belonging, and financing one’s own and one’s family’s living expenses. The later interviews shed light on potential developments of 'not having a real life' such as a deep immersion in homelessness, heroin dependence, and prostitution or in gang-forced dealing.

Those young persons without residence permits and consequently access to education and employment seem to have very limited possibilities to participate legally in the Swedish society. In addition, access to psychosocial and medical care tends to be extremely restricted. Integration and treatment options should be analysed and evaluated critically in relation to the existing legal framework.


Presentation files

25 A4 1320 Anke Stallwitz_v1.0.pdf492.46 KBDownload



Part of session