Substance Abuse and Homelessness
For years, scientists, government agencies and others have been studying the link between substance abuse and homelessness. The two are directly related and studies reaffirm this.
For example: substance abuse can lead to homelessness and vice versa. That’s probably no surprise to anyone, especially if you’ve seen celebrities struggle with addiction.
It’s probably no surprise that homelessness is both a symptom and a consequence of substance abuse. Even a cursory understanding of addiction demonstrates that people who are wrapped up in addiction often forsake all other needs and consequences in order to seek out the substance of their choice.
We’ve seen it go both ways – substance abuse often leads to homelessness and homelessness leads to addiction. This isn’t a steadfast rule of course, but the risks are certainly escalated if either condition exists in a person’s life.
The path to either condition can take many forms, but the most prevalent path is predictable:
Substance use disorders disrupt relationships and lead to unemployment. With no source of income, spiraling bills, and unpaid rent or mortgage, addicts can end up losing their homes.
People who find themselves homeless often turn to addiction for the perceived “escape” substances offer.
A 2008 survey conducted in 25 American cities found that in single adults, addiction is the biggest reason for becoming homeless. A 2007 study by Didenko and Pankratz indicated that two-thirds of people living on the streets blamed alcohol and/or drugs for their homelessness. On the other hand, substance abuse is a well-known consequence of homelessness. It is not uncommon for homeless people to abuse alcohol and drugs to cope with the difficulties of life on the street.
It’s like trying to answer the age-old chicken and the egg question. It appears that drugs and alcohol are both the cause and result of homelessness. How big is the problem of addiction among the homeless? What can be done to help substance abusers who are sleeping rough? Read on to learn more.
The Harsh Reality of Life in the Streets
For most people, homelessness is a temporary problem. Therefore, the size of the homeless population varies and the numbers only indicate a snapshot in time. Even the interpretation of the term homeless varies depending on the context. In general, the lack of a fixed, regular, safe, and adequate place to sleep at night is regarded as homelessness. Homeless people may find themselves in different types of sheltered and unsheltered circumstances:
- Sleeping on the streets
- Living in abandoned buildings
- Sleeping in a car
- Camping outdoors
- Living in transitional housing or emergency shelters
- Doubling up temporarily with family or friends
Chronic homelessness is defined as being continuously without a home for more than one year or experiencing at least four episodes of rough sleeping in the preceding three years.
What are the effects of homelessness? Life on the streets is incredibly harsh. Homeless individuals are in danger of violence and abuse. They are at risk of a number of health conditions, such as cold injuries, nutritional deficiencies, skin diseases, mental illnesses, and substance abuse. The lack of social support and estrangement from friends and family makes breaking out of addictive behaviors especially difficult for homeless substance abusers.
Statistics on Substance Abuse and Homelessness
Addiction frequently accompanies the loss of housing. Substance abuse is more common in homeless individuals compared to the general population. Surveys show that drug and alcohol abuse are major contributing factors for people becoming and remaining homeless.
The numbers are staggering. An estimated 2 million Americans experience homelessness every year. Here are some statistics that indicate the enormity of the problem:
- In 2016, on a given night, almost 550,000 Americans, including more than 120,000 children did not have a stable, safe, affordable place to live
- More than 85,000 individuals are chronically homeless in the United States
- One in five homeless individuals has substance abuse problems
- 7 percent of people in homeless shelters are struggling with addiction
- About 200,000 homeless people suffer from chronic substance use disorder or mental illness
- Two-thirds of homeless individuals have chronic health conditions including substance abuse
- LGBT youth and veterans are at high risk of homelessness
America is the world’s richest and most powerful nation, yet homelessness continues to be a serious social problem in this country. What is the relationship between a lack of adequate housing and serious health problems such as substance abuse?
Substance Abuse and Homelessness: A Complex Equation
Not every homeless person becomes a drug addict. And not every substance abuser ends up on the street. So, what are the dynamics between addiction and homelessness? Is this co-dependent relationship affected by other factors?
Homeless individuals struggle with harsh living conditions, putting them at high risk of turning to alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism. About 38 percent of individuals availing homeless services report current alcohol problems and 62 percent report problems with excessive drinking at some point in their lives. A study of homeless youth in Los Angeles found that more than 70 percent had problems with alcohol, drugs, or both.
People grappling with illicit drug abuse, prescription pill dependence, or alcoholism become entrenched in their addiction. In many cases, the resulting downward spiral of broken relationships and unemployment culminates in homelessness.
The problem is further complicated by the fact that in many homeless people, substance abuse co-occurs with mental illnesses. It is estimated that 25 to 33 percent of homeless individuals have a serious mental illness. Untreated mental health conditions can lead to inappropriate self-medication with prescription drugs. In addition, this group of people faces several obstacles in obtaining drug rehab and stable housing.
Homeless addicts frequently cycle between jails, streets, and emergency rooms with a discontinuity in medical care. Not all programs for the homeless accept individuals with substance abuse issues. And not all programs for substance abusers living on the streets are equipped to treat mental conditions.
Mental Health and Homelessness
It’s no secret that many homeless people have some sort of mental illness or disorder. As many as 40% by some estimates fall into this group. These people also often turn to substance abuse to help take the edge off.
Since most states in the U.S. have cut mental health resources to the bone, it’s difficult to take action. States like California can’t get people placed into treatment unless they agree. In most cases, people suffering from mental illness don’t understand their condition and so they decline.
Things only get worse when people suffering from some sort of mental illness or disorder turn to substances. At that point, they decline rapidly and without treatment, the outcomes are not good.
How to Help the Homeless Addict
For starters, stop enabling homeless addicts to sink deeper into addiction. Instead of giving panhandlers money, offer to call a local Rehab facility to come pick them up and get help.
In any state, you can simply dial “211” to get connected with a mental health provider or social worker. You should offer to do so.
With a little humility and a lot of hope and determination, homeless addicts can set get on the path to recovery. It takes a strong will and the determination to commit to treatment.
Get Help Now
If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction, Contact Us now.
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