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The Correlation Between Homelessness and Addiction

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On any night in January 2020, 580,000 people didn’t have a place to call home, according to HUD’s Annual Point-In-Time Count. Homelessness often leads to misusing drugs or alcohol to cope with daily stressors. Additionally, co-occurring mental illness further complicates substance abuse and homelessness.

Seeking addiction treatment can benefit those struggling with homelessness and addiction. However, many homeless people don’t know where to get help when struggling with substance abuse. If you or someone you love is struggling with homelessness and addiction, learning about homelessness, substance abuse, and treatment options can be beneficial.

What is Addiction’s Connection to Homelessness?

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According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, addiction can be a cause of and the result of being homeless. Substance misuse can lead to poor work performance, attendance, and job loss. Unemployment can make paying for housing difficult, which leads to evictions, foreclosures, and homelessness.

Struggling with substance use disorder makes it even more difficult for the homeless to find housing. For example, some housing assistance programs require drug tests or completing addiction treatment before they will help.

It can be more difficult for the homeless to stop abusing drugs or alcohol. They typically have a smaller support system, less motivation to quit, higher priorities such as finding food and housing, and less access to treatment.

What Causes Homelessness?

Homelessness is an effect of the country’s economy. However, factors such as lifestyle and physical and mental health are significant factors in homelessness. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the following are contributors to homelessness.

More Americans are finding themselves newly homeless, and millions more fear they will also lose their homes. This is due to increasing inflation rates for necessities like gas and food. Shelters are seeing an increase in people needing help as they struggle to find housing that meets their income. According to a 2020 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, every $100 increase in median rent is associated with a 9 percent increase in the estimated homelessness rate.

An illness or injury may start as a health condition but lead to an employment problem. Health issues can cause missing too many days and an inability to work a regular schedule or perform the job’s tasks.

Unemployment due to health issues becomes a vicious cycle – without a job, there isn’t money for treatment, and a person can’t heal and work again. Without an income, health problems can quickly lead to homelessness.

Simultaneously, being homeless is also a dangerous health condition. Living in homeless shelters and on the streets is very stressful and can worsen health issues by being exposed to communicable diseases like the flu, respiratory diseases, and hepatitis. Homeless people are also exposed to violence, the weather, and malnutrition.

Unfortunately, in America, we have a serious domestic violence problem. It is estimated that over 10 million people live in abusive environments. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) reports 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience domestic violence.

For many people, domestic violence is the direct cause of their homelessness. In fact, each night in 2019, homeless shelters set aside over 48,000 beds for domestic violence survivors. People who experience domestic violence are more prone to homelessness since their abusers typically control all the money.

What are the Challenges of Homelessness?

Homelessness comes with many challenges depending on the individual’s situation. These challenges may include food insecurity, lack of sleep, and an unkempt appearance. The homeless also face high rates of violence, legal issues, and ridicule.

When these challenges become overwhelming, people often turn to drugs or alcohol. However, combining substance abuse and homelessness further complicates the issues. In order to get off the streets, a person needs stable housing, which is generally a homeless shelter. However, shelters and other homeless services typically have a no-drug policy.

Do the Causes of Homelessness Lead to Addiction?

While misusing drugs and alcohol can lead to homelessness, being homeless often leads to substance use disorder. Being homeless is extremely stressful and overwhelming. To cope with the stressors, people often use drugs or alcohol. On top of the stress of being homeless, people are still coping with the reasons they became homeless.

Mental illnesses cause behavioral and cognitive issues. This makes maintaining employment and stable housing difficult. Some reports show 45% of homeless people struggle with mental illness. Besides mental illness being a major contributor to homelessness, it often leads to abusing drugs and alcohol.

Common mental health disorders homeless people struggle with include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – highest among homeless veterans
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Severe anxiety

Homeless people struggling with mental health disorders are more likely to experience assault, increasing the need for comfort in drugs and alcohol.

Women who are homeless experience unique gender-based trauma. This contributes to the percentage of homeless with addiction being higher in women than men. Mental illness is also higher in homeless women, with 50 -60 percent struggling with mental and emotional disorders.

Often, women become homeless after domestic violence or have escaped sexual violence or sex trafficking. Between these factors and co-occurring mental health disorders, over one-third of homeless women abuse heroin and crack.

Homeless youth and young adults often fall victim to substance abuse. In fact, 71% of homeless youth report struggling with addiction.  Youths ages 12 to 17 are at a higher risk of homelessness than adults, many of whom are victims of severe abuse.

Factors that contribute to youth homelessness and addiction include:

  • Growing up homeless
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Physical, sexual, or mental abuse
  • Unhealthy coping skills for stress
  • Co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Using drugs and alcohol at a young age
  • Running away from home

Without treatment, homeless youth are more vulnerable to long-term substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders that follow them into adulthood.

Drug and alcohol use are high within the LGBTQIA+ community. They also struggle with minority stress and internalized feelings of exclusion which fuels their substance abuse. Unfortunately, the percentage of members in this community struggling with homelessness is 120% higher than the general population.

The LGBTQIA+ community also struggles with a high percentage of homeless with addiction. This community deals with depression, PTSD, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide when homeless, and they often self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Homelessness in the LGBTQIA+ community is also high due to housing and employment discrimination.

Substance Abuse and Homelessness is a Public Health Issue

The homeless population is often looked down on and ridiculed. There is a stigma about the homeless, including they are lazy and drug addicts. However, this is not always true. These stigmas increase the problem by ignoring the fundamental issue of accessible treatment and help for homelessness and addiction.

Homelessness is extremely difficult and stressful. People are exposed to harsh, cold, and hot temperatures and often live in unsanitary environments. Besides a lack of basic necessities and high rates of substance abuse, the health effects of being homeless can be severe. 

Women who struggle with substance abuse and homelessness are a more significant public health issue. They have more unplanned pregnancies than the general population due to a lack of access to birth control. Homeless women also typically have less access to prenatal care. Since the rate of substance abuse is high in homeless women, they are in desperate need of this care.

What are the Challenges of Homelessness and Addiction Treatment?

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It is possible to treat substance abuse in the homeless population successfully. However, the many barriers to treatment need to be addressed. It is hard enough meeting their daily needs, let alone trying to find treatment programs.

Addiction treatment services may not be readily available, so finding food and safety precedes finding treatment. Additionally, people who are homeless are typically not in touch with their families. It is harder to achieve and maintain recovery without a strong support system for loved ones.

Other barriers to homelessness and addiction treatment include

  • Lack of finances
  • No health insurance
  • The stigma around mental health and substance use disorders
  • Lack of transportation
  • Unaware of resources
  • Distrust in authority
  • Social isolation

When the homeless do seek treatment, they often struggle with treatment compliance. This leads to high relapse and dropout rates.

How Can Casco Bay Recovery Help Reduce Homelessness and Addiction?

Addiction treatment is more than just stopping the use of drugs and alcohol. However, when it comes to substance abuse and homelessness, there is even more to overcome. At Casco Bay Recovery, we offer a comprehensive approach to treating homelessness and addiction. Our treatment approach includes the following.

A crucial aspect of recovery has a stable and healthy living environment. It is nearly impossible for a person living on the streets to remain free of drugs and alcohol. Our sober living houses not only provide stability but also offer support to help maintain recovery.

Many people struggling with homelessness and addiction have co-occurring mental health disorders. Our dual-diagnosis treatment program can offer the best chance at recovery by simultaneously addressing addiction and mental health disorders.

Medication-assisted treatment is crucial for treating some addictions and mental health disorders. Many homeless people need these medications due to a high rate of mental disorders. However, medication use must be monitored to prevent misusing or selling of medicine.

Being homeless and trying to survive on the streets is mentally and spiritually draining. Holistic therapy programs such as meditation, mindfulness, and yoga can build self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-love while encouraging lasting recovery.

People who work full-time jobs often avoid going to addiction treatment because of the cost. Imagine being homeless and how discouraging it can be to see the price of treatment when they can’t afford a meal. At Casco Bay Recovery, we work with charitable organizations and homeless services to help cover the cost of treatment.

Start Your Road to Recovery Today

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If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse and homelessness, it is time to seek help. Contact our team today and find out how we can help you get started on a new life.