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Homelessness and Addiction

Homelessness is a complicated problem that is a result of various factors. They include a lack of affordable housing, unemployment, poverty and limited financial resources, mental health problems, and substance use disorders. 

In many cases of mental health and substance use disorders, people who struggle with them aren’t aware of resources that can help them. In some cases, there is a lack of treatment services. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that 257,000 homeless people in the U.S. have a substance use disorder or a severe mental health problem. 

Mental health and substance use disorders are a more prevalent problem among people struggling with chronic homelessness. Chronic homelessness is characterized by homelessness that lasts for a year or more or occurs repeatedly. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, chronically homeless people typically have a long-term disability or health condition like mental illness, physical disabilities, or a substance use disorder. 

Once a person with limited resources and a severe mental or physical health problem becomes homeless, it becomes increasingly challenging for them to pull themselves out of it without help from friends, family, community, or government aid. 

Why Addiction Leads to Homelessness

Substance use disorders can be a cause of consequence of homelessness. However, severe substance use disorders that are not addressed for a long time can result in financial struggles that lead to homelessness. 

Addiction has a tendency to disrupt several aspects of your life, including your relationships with friends and family members, your ability to perform at work, and your ability to find and keep a job. The most apparent connection between homelessness and addiction is the challenge of staying employed while maintaining an addiction.

As tolerance grows, it takes larger and more frequent doses to achieve the same effects. For that reason, you may spend more and more of your time under the influence of the drug, or taking time to find and use the drug, which hinders your ability to maintain responsibilities.

However, it can also start to affect your personal relationships with family and friends. People with substance use disorders tend to fall into patterns of isolation. They also lose interest in regular activities and neglect personal responsibilities. As addiction continues, you may become alienated from your friends and family, which weakens your support system. 

When you start to struggle financially or have housing issues, you may not have a network of support to rely on. Even when homeless people are seeking recovery, their resources to get it may be limited. There are some resources specifically designed to help homeless people and people struggling with homelessness and addiction, but it may be difficult to find and enroll in these programs for many. 

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Does Addiction Always Come First?

Addiction often precedes financial problems and homelessness, but it doesn’t always come first. 

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, people may also turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with daily financial and housing struggles. Plus, with significant percentages of the homeless population suffering from a substance use disorder, homeless people may find themselves in environments with high drug availability.

The motivation to avoid or escape active addiction may also be very low for a homeless person. Since they have very limited resources, they are concerned with the most basic needs like food, shelter, and safety. If your daily concern is survival, your focus on betterment and self-improvement may be a low priority. 

Homelessness and addiction may also present themselves simultaneously in a person’s life. For instance, a person struggling with low socioeconomic status, financial instability, and housing struggles may be living with high amounts of stress each day. If stress leads to anxiety or depression, they may turn to psychoactive substances as a way to self-medicate. 

Substance abuse and dependence are more likely to worsen the problem by hindering your ability to overcome challenges that you’re facing. Either way, addiction and homelessness are both problems that feed off one another and need to be addressed simultaneously to be effectively treated. 

Treating Homelessness and Addiction

Homeless people and people with limited financial resources will have more limited options when it comes to addiction treatment. However, resources are available, depending on the area and state you live in. Most states receive federal funding for addressing homelessness, and there are some charitable organizations that seek to help people with substance use problems and homelessness. Some private addiction treatment centers open up some of their beds to people who have limited resources.

These opportunities, however, are rare compared to the overall scope of need. 

Effective addiction treatment will address multiple issues, including physical and mental health, social issues, financial issues, and legal problems. 

Effective addiction treatment centers will also have case managers that advocate for clients and try to set them up with housing and employment opportunities when they’re ready for them.

A sign that reads "Homeless, please help"

Addiction treatment should also focus on preparing clients to cope with stress, drug cravings, and triggers without relapsing back into substance abuse.

Seeking Addiction Treatment

Addiction is chronic and progressive. That means it can last a long time, and it’s likely to get worse if it isn’t addressed. Without treating it, addiction can lead to severe consequences such as health problems and homelessness. However, addiction is treatable, and getting treatment as early as possible can help you avoid some of the most severe consequences of addiction. 

Whether you’ve just started to recognize the signs of a substance use disorder or if you’ve struggled with it for years, addiction treatment may help you achieve lasting sobriety. To begin your journey to recovery, learn more about addiction, and how it can be effectively treated.

Sources

American Psychiatric Association. (2017, January). What Is Addiction? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction

National Coalition for the Homeless. (2017, June). Substance Abuse and Homelessness – nationalhomeless.org. Retrieved from http://nationalhomeless.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Substance-Abuse-and-Homelessness.pdf

National Alliance to End Homelessness. (2019, January). Chronically Homeless. Retrieved from https://endhomelessness.org/homelessness-in-america/who-experiences-homelessness/chronically-homeless/

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Principles of Effective Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment

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