Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Social Work, Ph.D.

First Advisor

Dr. Marilyn A. Biggerstaff


Historically, substance abuse research has for the most part excluded African American women. The small body of existing substance abuse research regarding African American women does not examine gender and socio-cultural issues from African American women's perspectives. The purpose of this phenomenological study is to develop a deeper, contextual understanding of the experiences and perspectives of this marginalized population of women. The major goal of the study is to examine the perspectives of African American women about their substance abuse, treatment and recovery. The knowledge gained from this research with African American women regarding their experiences and specific needs in substance abuse treatment is vital to our understanding of this special population and the complex phenomena of substance abuse. In-depth qualitative interviews were used to capture the personal accounts of 25 African American women in substance abuse treatment and recovery. The sample of women in treatment was recruited from public outpatient and residential substance abuse programs in the Richmond, Virginia metropolitan area. Recovering women were recruited through community contacts using snowball sampling techniques. A semi-structured interview guide was used for data collection and interviews were audiotape recorded with the permission of the participants. The women in this study recalled specific events and experiences related to their substance abuse, treatment and recovery. Experiences with trauma were prevalent in the lives of many of the women in this study. The women identified a plethora of needs both met and unmet that are salient to their emotional and physical wellbeing. The women's perceptions of substance abuse treatment programs were influenced by a host of factors, however, the women overall expressed positive regard for substance abuse treatment. The women also evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of substance abuse treatment programs.Substance abuse disorders are complex and have far-reaching ramifications for individuals, families and communities. The paucity of funding and lack of equal access to substance abuse and other related services remains a challenge in an environment of conservatism, high health care costs and cutbacks in human services. Where substance abuse treatment is available, programs must improve services in a manner that matches the multiple and complex needs of women. If substance abuse treatment programs are to become more effective, a family-focused service model that promotes recovery of the family system must also be adopted. Moreover, the women's participation in their own care is salient to their healing, empowerment and recovery. Socio-cultural factors related to oppression play a significant role in the daily lives of African American women in both direct and indirect ways and thus warrant attention in substance abuse treatment.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

June 2008

Included in

Social Work Commons