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Author: Cassandra Wagenaar

Generally speaking, alcohol addiction is more likely to arise among people who experience stress. These stressors can be categorized into four categories: general-life stress, catastrophic events, childhood stress, and racial/ethnic minority stress (NIAA 2019). When experiencing these feelings, people may turn to alcohol in order to seek positive feelings and relaxation. An especially vulnerable group are asylum seekers, due to the catastrophic events they may have experienced.

In 2018, The Netherlands received around 20,000 asylum seekers, predominantly from Syria, Eritrea, Algeria and Morocco (AIDA 2018). This number is expected to be even higher by the end of 2019: There were a record breaking 5,900 individuals that came to the Netherlands just during the summer months between July and September (Dutch News 2019).

The Asylum Process

Upon arrival in the Netherlands, the procedure for incoming asylum seekers consists of the following:

  1. Registration and identification through an interview at the Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) Application Centre in Ter Capel upon arrival.
  2. After registration, the asylum seeker is welcomed at a reception centre while their request for asylum is being processed. Here, they are provided with housing and basic facilities for cooking and washing. These centres are often former prisons, convents, barracks, caravans or semipermanent residential units (COA 2019).

Once an individual has applied for asylum, the government must make a decision within six months, and in certain cases this may even be extended to 15 months (IND 2019). It is during this waiting time that asylum seekers face a number of difficulties. This is predominantly due to the anxiety of the waiting period which may lead to “insecurity and boredom” (Dupont et. al. 2005). One of the problems which may arise is the resort to excessive alcohol consumption as a way to get by, which in turn may spiral into alcohol addiction. (Dupont et. al. 2005, 28).

Asylum and Addiction

There are multiple underlying reasons that contribute to the decision
to turn to alcohol. First, one of the reasons asylum seekers find comfort in alcohol is ridding themselves of memories of trauma that they faced in their country of origin before they escaped to the Netherlands (Dupont et. al. 2005, 32). They may have come from a very traumatic past, such as in cases of war. For example, the majority of asylum seekers in The Netherlands have come from Syria – a country which has experienced war for over 8 years, and seen the death of more than 360,000 people as of December 2018 (BBC 2019).

Secondly, those waiting for their asylum request to be processed may also be worried about the family that they left behind or those that have fled to other countries. They often do not know if they are still alive or even their exact whereabouts due to a lack of communication. This may lead to depression, which in turn may lead to alcohol abuse (Dupont et. al. 2005, 32).

Finally, another factor that leads to stress for asylum seekers is the lengthy Dutch bureaucracy (IND 2019). Obtaining their asylum status is often a strenuous procedure. This may especially be so in recent times. The increasing influx of asylum seekers into the Netherlands has led to difficulties in accommodating them as even those that have been
granted residency permits are living in reception centres, even though they should have been moved to a regular home (Dutch News 2019). Moreover, the IND currently does not have enough staff to deal with the high influx of asylum seekers, which has further increased the amount of time individuals have to wait for the processing of their applications (Dutch News 2019). These complications in turn cause a lot of uncertainty for asylum seekers, as
the thought of losing their securities may lead them to drug and alcohol use (Dupont et. al. 2005, 32).

Overall, the asylum process can be seen to be a stress inducing experience, as many of these individuals have come from a traumatizing past and are often put in a vulnerable state. The government should pay attention to this and provide adequate support in order to prevent asylum seekers failing into alcohol dependency and abuse.


AIDA (2019). “Statistics – Netherlands.” Asylum Information Database. At

BBC (2019). “Why is there a war in Syria?” BBC News. At

COA (2019). “Reception centres.” Centraal Orgaan opvang asielzoekers. At

Den Haag (2018). Status holders in The Hague. At

Dupont, H. J. B. H. M., Kaplan, C. D., Verbraeck, H. T., Braam, R. V., and van de Wijngaart, G. F. (2005). “Killing time: drug and alcohol problems among asylum seekers in the Netherlands.” International Journal of Drug Policy 16(1): 27–36.

Dutch News (2019). “More asylum seekers come to the Netherlands, refugee centres are full.” At

IND (2019). “Processing times asylum procedure.” Immigration and Naturalisation Service. At

NIAAA (2019). “Interactions between stress and alcohol.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Addiction. At

How does Uncertainty around Asylum Status in the Netherlands contribute to Alcohol Abuse and Addiction?

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