Homelessness and substance abuse are two huge problems in the USA, and there are cases where they are combined. Unfortunately, substance abuse among the homeless population is more common than we’d like to believe, but which one comes first?
Is it an addiction that leads to homelessness, or is the homeless population who turns to drugs to find comfort?
Here, we are going to analyze the problem and provide some data and information to better understand how drug addiction and homelessness are connected.
Does Homelessness Cause Addiction or Vice Versa?
There is not a specific answer that works for the whole homeless population. What we can say is that in some cases, homeless drug addicts are unfortunate people who turn to drugs or alcohol to better deal with their hard situations, to cope with everything they have to endure, and to forget, even for a couple hours, the life they’re living.
More often, homelessness is a consequence of substance abuse. This happens because addiction can break relationships, cause people to lose their jobs, and ultimately make them unable to pay bills, rent, health insurance, and food. Finally, homelessness becomes the only option for those people.
In the light of this, we can see how homelessness and drug abuse are strictly linked to each other. Needless to say, addiction only worsens the conditions of people living on the streets. Homeless health problems might originate from a lack of money and food. However, when drugs or alcohol enter the picture, the result can only end in sickness or even death.
Several other factors associated with substance use among homeless young adults are stated by NIH.
Consequences of Addiction in Homeless People
Substance abuse causes several different problems in the homeless population that go way beyond the lack of food and sleep.
Many shelters turn away a homeless drug addict, forcing the individual to go through difficult times alone and without any protection whatsoever.
In addition to the ‘regular’ problems related to homelessness and drug abuse, these people run the risk of losing their mental health and experience several co-occurring disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, and PTSD.
Not all problems are health-related though, homeless drug addicts might also end up being incarcerated by police officers and, when they are released, finding a job will be even more difficult due to the fact they’ll have a criminal record. In many cases, this leads to the individual committing even more drug-related crimes, therefore beginning a vicious cycle that isn’t likely to end.
Death is, unfortunately, a frequent occurrence when drugs and homelessness are both involved. Due to the lack of health insurance and money, homeless individuals often self-diagnose and self-medicate when they feel unwell. However, this solution isn’t effective, and a significant number of them die due to the effects of drugs or overdose.
What Percentage of Homeless People Have a Substance Abuse Problem?
Even though some studies say drug addiction affects 40% of the homeless population, while other studies lean more towards 50%, one thing is certain: Substance abuse is the most severe problem among the homeless population.
Homeless drug addicts abuse different substances basing on factors such as their age; Alcoholism is more frequent among older homeless people, while prescribed opioids are more used by young adults, more specifically, Methamphetamine and Cocaine.
The number of homeless people abusing more than one kind of substance is increasing as well, especially among adults. Moreover, a 2013 study states that more than 60% of homeless children will be more likely to use drugs in the future.
Is There a Place Where Homeless Drug Addicts Can Get Help?
Although substance abuse and homelessness combined are not seen well by homeless shelters, there are several programs and organizations that aim to help this category of people.
For instance, the National Coalition for the Homeless is trying to end this problem through public education, while the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Organization provides funds and support to homeless people who are struggling with mental problems and drug addiction.
The first step to get help to a homeless drug addict is reaching out to them, communicate with them, and persuade them to seek assistance. Finding housing can potentially motivate them to find employment and move forward with their lives.