School of Health in Social Science

Exploring the factors that influence harmful alcohol use through the refugee journey: a qualitative study

Exploring the factors that influence harmful alcohol use through the refugee journey: a qualitative study in Scotland funded by SHAAP.

This study undertaken by researchers at the University of Edinburgh Centre for Homelessness and Inclusion Health explores the factors influencing harmful alcohol use through the refugee journey. Drawing on interviews with people with current experience of seeking asylum in the UK, the report sheds light on a little understood topic, and highlights how refugees and asylum seekers who do experience harmful alcohol use in the UK do not arrive with these issues, but rather develop them as a result of destitution, or being placed under a condition of 'No Recourse to Public Funds' (NRPF).


The study also finds that the prohibition of work and paid employment while people wait for their asylum claim to be determined contributes to mental ill-health and a sense of de-personalisation, while long waiting times, social isolation, boredom and poverty contribute to harmful drinking. Participants identified the most important factor deciding between health and harmful alcohol use as the ability to envision a positive future, and protective factors to harmful alcohol use as meaningful activity, social support, and connection to third sector organisations, churches, and/or volunteer organisations.

Based on these findings, the authors make recommendations for policy and practice, including the following:

  • That the UK government should allow people seeking aslyum to work and engage in meaningful activity while their claim is being processed.
  • That when asylum is refused, people should either be immediately removed to their home country or continue to be given accommodation so that desitution - a trigger of harmful alcohol use - is not the immediate result of a refused claim.
  • That culturally appropriate mental health services to manage trauma be developed.
  • That education programmes for staff in third sector organisations are supported, so that staff can better understand harmful alcohol use among people seeking asylum and refugees.


This study was generously funded by Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems and the report from this study is also available on their web site (SHAAP)