Women Drug Addicts on the Rise in Iran

By Paul Gaita 05/16/14

Women make up ten percent of Iran's addict population, a number that has doubled in the last two years alone.

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According to statistics from the United Nations, Iran has the highest percentage of addicts in the world, with anywhere between three and four million adults in a nation of approximately 80 million addicted to heroin or crystal meth.

At least 700,000 of these individuals are women, who make up 10 percent of Iran’s addicts, a number that has doubled over the last two years alone. The country has sought to address the problem through anti-drug public awareness campaigns, and more than 600 private and government-run rehabilitation centers, the majority of which cater to male clients. Women addicts in Iran face much greater opposition to their problems from the culture itself, thanks in part to societal stigmas associated with female substance abuse.

Until recently, government officials largely believed that women with addiction issues simply did not exist, until the rising numbers forced them to recant their position. However, they have instead sought to blame the epidemic of women addicts on western attempts to disrupt the Islamic lifestyle.

Adding to this atmosphere of disinformation was a lack of support from the families, friends, and employers of women addicts. Those that did summon the strength to admit their problem and seek treatment found it near-impossible to find a facility that would provide treatment; in the past, rehab counselors were forced to set up tents outside of the capital city of Tehran and spread the news about their operations through word of mouth.

Though a 12-step program akin to Narcotics Anonymous has proven helpful in breaking the physical and spiritual maladies of addiction, women participants face an even greater uphill battle once they exit treatment. They must return to a society that treats them with disdain and a living situation that, in many occasions, forces them to exist in the same homes or neighborhoods where they scored drugs due to marriage or familial relationships.

Addicts and treatment workers alike hope that any progress, no matter how small, will prove beneficial to recovery. As a treatment center director noted, “There is starting to be some recognition that addiction is a disease, not a crime,” she said. “But changing minds takes time.”

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.