For many of us, there’s a common image of a homeless person taking a swig of liquor from a paper bag or in a back alley shooting up heroin. There has long been an association between homelessness and substance abuse. Yet, why is this the case? Although there are certainly many alcoholics and drug addicts among the homeless population, it may not be accurate to link the two problems.
The Root Causes Of Homelessness
Homelessness happens because of a variety of reasons. It is a complex problem with no simple answer. In the United States, it’s estimated that there are between 2.3 and 3.5 million homeless individuals, according to Amnesty International USA.
Drug and alcohol abuse is certainly a contributing factor to someone becoming homeless, but there are plenty of drug addicts and alcoholics in all income brackets. Many are even living in multimillion-dollar estates.
Other contributing factors to homelessness include:
- Divorce or relationship breakdown
- Mental illness
- A lack of affordable housing
- Escaping an abusive home environment
- Failure to receive child support
- Natural disasters [/one_half]
- Inability to get social assistance
- Former incarceration
- Former military service
- Physical disabilities
- Family breakdown
- Lack of affordable healthcare
The Consequences Of Not Having A Home
Sadly, homeless individuals are among the most vulnerable members of a community. They face many problems that make their lives extremely difficult and even put them at risk. From insufficient health care and limited access to nutritious food, to crime and an inability to maintain personal hygiene, life as a homeless person is not easy or simple. For many, it leads to a downward spiral of increasing problems.
It is estimated that nearly 2 out of every 5 homeless individuals are abusing alcohol, and approximately one-quarter regularly use illicit drugs. These statistics far exceed those of the general population. This has led some to believe that alcohol or drugs is the primary factor in why someone becomes homeless. However, the situation is much more multifaceted.
Addiction And Homelessness: Which Comes First?
For some homeless people, the stress of being on the street and maybe even having mental health problems can lead to substance abuse as a source of self-medication. Others battle addiction for years, losing careers, family, possessions and friends. In other words, their addiction is a primary factor in their downward trajectory to homelessness.
The Real Truth About Homelessness
What is definitive is that alcoholics and drug addicts within the homeless population are a very vulnerable, at-risk group. Some shelters will not admit someone who is drunk or high. This means many are left on the street, even when there are extremes in weather conditions.
Additionally, many community or social service agencies make it difficult to get help if you’re drunk or high. This has led to an increasing number of “wet shelters,” which welcome those who have been drinking.
Because there are many circumstances that cause both addiction and homelessness, it can be a very challenging problem to fix. To provide effective help, it’s essential to understand the causes of both the addiction and the homelessness. When those can be identified, it can be easier to determine solutions that can address both issues.
Addiction Treatment For A Loved One
Do you have a loved one who is homeless and addicted to drugs or alcohol? Help is available. We encourage you to call us now to speak with an addiction specialist and learn about treatment options. There are certainly stigmas when it comes to both addiction and homelessness. This is why it’s wise to choose a professional program that is focused on providing long-term recovery in a comfortable, supportive, non-judgmental environment.