Homelessness is a serious problem that affects the entire world. In many cases, circumstances can force people to live on the street. Stable housing becomes a huge issue for those with addictions. Here we will examine the link between being homeless and substance abuse.
Homelessness – What percentage of homeless are addicted to alcohol or drugs?
It is hard to get accurate figures, but it is pretty clear that substance abuse is higher in homeless populations than in other groups. In 2003, SAMHSA estimated that 38% of homeless people were dependent on alcohol. 26% abused other drugs, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.
One reason that many homeless people have substance use disorders is that drug or alcohol dependence can disrupt a person’s family life. It can make it harder to find or keep a job, go to school, or function on any normal level. Addiction is expensive. When addicted to a substance, people who may already be struggling financially will often spend any extra income on drugs or alcohol. This makes it much easier for them to lose their homes, not pay their rent or utilities, and be dependent on public assistance services.
The National Coalition for the Homeless also reported that people who are homeless often turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their situations. They use substances in an attempt to get temporary relief from their problems. In truth, being dependent on substances only increases their problems while decreasing their ability to handle them. It also hinders their ability to achieve employment stability and get off the streets. Additionally, some people may view drug and alcohol use as necessary to be accepted among the homeless community (Didenko and Pankratz, 2007).
Homelessness and Mental Illness
A large percentage of the homeless are also mentally ill. Often, their illnesses go untreated. Many of the mentally ill are unable to work regular jobs. Sometimes, they also turn to drugs as a way to self-medicate. These people are often stuck in a vicious cycle of hospitals, jails, and other treatment facilities. They are very often unable to get the help they need, especially when funding for mental health programs gets cut. They are also more prone to be victims of violence, or even to perpetrate violence.
Homelessness – Other Barriers that Impede Help
It is often difficult for the homeless to get access to the services they need, to commit to a plan of action, and to pay for services that are not free. Although free help is available, it is often limited. Without insurance, most homeless have few options. Typical avenues of help that are free include shelters, food pantries, or AA Meetings, where they can grab a free cup of coffee and sometimes a sandwich or snack. Most higher levels of care like residential treatment programs and prescriptions medications that can help some issues, are totally dependent on some form of insurance, even if it is through the state.
With such barriers in place, many homeless feel like it is too hard to stop using substances and they are caught in the struggle of having to survive versus taking steps to improve their lives. In addition, they are often cut off from a social support network. When their friends and families don’t want to associate with them, they don’t see many reasons to stop using substances. This can all make it harder to remain sober and eventually get off the streets.
What can be done to treat homelessness?
To effectively treat the homeless situation, it is important to not address a few things. One is the issue of stable housing. However, treating underlying addiction issues is also paramount. It is very hard for a homeless person to have stability if they continue to abuse drugs or alcohol. The availability of public funding and the desire of the public to address these issues plays a major role in solving the homeless problem.
National Coalition for the Homeless