Drug Addiction And Homelessness

Homelessness is a widespread issue across the country, and a large number of homeless people struggle with a drug addiction.

Homelessness and Addiction Across America

Right now, there are over half a million Americans that are homeless. Forty five percent of the 552,830 homeless citizens reside in the District of Columbia, New York, Hawaii, Oregon, and California. The cities with disproportionately large numbers of homeless people are Washington, DC, Boston, New York City, San Francisco, and Santa Rosa, CA. Reasons that these cities have such high rates of homelessness include the higher price of housing, being able to sleep on the street, the number of homeless shelters, and the characteristics of the community. Some individual aspects that are tied to homelessness are incarceration, poverty, mental health, social ties, and drug addiction.

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Causes of Homelessness

One survey found that 26% of homeless people had drug use problems in the past month, 38% had alcohol use problems, and 39% had mental health problems. The American homeless population is mostly male, with 70% being men, and white Americans making up 49% of the homeless population. There are a variety of reasons why someone might become homeless, with part of it being bad luck. However, those who live at the poverty level are most at risk for becoming homeless. People who are paying 50% or more of their total income on housing rent are at risk.

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Drug and alcohol addiction are both a cause and a consequence of homelessness. Two thirds of people who are homeless have a lifetime history of an alcohol or drug disorder. Addiction to drugs can lead people to lose their jobs and disrupt their relationship with family and friends. Fifty one percent of people seeking shelter at homeless shelters previously were staying with family or friends, which leads to the conclusion that they may have exhausted their options of places to stay.

Homelessness and Drug Addiction: What Comes First?

The price of addiction is high and can deplete a hefty salary and savings in a small amount of time. The annual cost of a Heroin addiction can reach $54,000 for someone using it every day, and the cost of an Opioid addiction reaches $70,000. Substance abuse is much more common in homeless communities than in the general population, and while some people’s addiction fueled their descent into homelessness, others use substances as a coping mechanism.

Many homeless people use drugs as a temporary relief from their problems. Living on the streets is a highly stressful situation, especially not knowing when your next meal or decent sleep will come. Using drugs to cope with stress can lead to addiction, and addiction will only heighten stress in the long run. The National Coalition for the Homeless states that some people abuse drugs and alcohol to be accepted by the homeless community. Getting clean from a drug addiction is already difficult for people with a lot of support, so it might seem impossible for someone living on the streets to get clean.

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Overcoming Drug Addiction While Homeless

Homeless people who are motivated to overcome a drug addiction may find themselves with few options. There is limited access to services, and it is hard to stay clean in a place where drugs are so commonly used. When food and shelter are the main priorities, some may lack the motivation to seek drug counseling and work on personal development. With 39% of homeless populations suffering from a mental health disorder, some may self-medicate with illicit drugs without access to proper health care. Many programs for mental health will not accept patients with a substance use disorder, and many programs for drugs will not accept mental health patients. Co-occurring disorders, or dual disorders, are when someone is diagnosed with both a substance abuse disorder and a mental health disorder, and they must both be treated. Many programs are prepared to treat both conditions.

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The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Coalition for the Homeless offers resources for homeless people struggling with mental and substance use disorders. Some programs aim for abstinence only, while others focus on harm reduction. One example is The Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program that opened the Supportive Place for Observation and Treatment (SPOT). SPOT provides medical staff to observe and provide emergency treatment for people who have used drugs. They average about 300 people a month and have administered naloxone (a drug to reverse narcotic overdose) 30 times.

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Find Help for Homelessness and Addiction

If you are struggling with homelessness and drug addiction, there is help available for you. Contact a compassionate treatment specialist who can help you find the right path towards recovery. Don’t wait to seek treatment: in cities like Philadelphia, the Opioid epidemic has tripled deaths in their homeless population. Similar trends are appearing around the country, such as Los Angeles where deaths of their homeless have doubled since 2013. The largest contributing factor to death was drug and alcohol overdose.

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