Homelessness and Substance Abuse


There are numerous challenges every day, such as unemployment, housing, and food, that homeless people encounter. For many, drug abuse is a single issue in an increasing list of issues that exacerbate their situation, leading to imprisonment, mental disorders, and even suicide.

The broader meaning of homelessness

The origins of homelessness and drug use have been studied by scholars for decades. While figures of the consumption of alcohol and narcotics by homeless residents differ significantly, experts agree that the use of substances among homeless people is much higher than in the rest of the population. Among those who experience substance use challenges, the number of people without adequate and secure housing is also high.

One truth is quite obvious that it is among the poorest and most vulnerable groups in society that the homeless with alcohol, narcotics, and mental disorders become. What continues to be debated, however, is whether the use of drugs contributes to poverty or employment. Most of us can easily imagine how the issue with drugs would contribute to homelessness. Moreover, it logically results in the loss of that important social and economic aid in your lives if using alcohol or other drugs becomes more important than the work, health, and relationships.

However, it is equally clear that being homeless can produce or worsen a problem with new substances. A person can rely on alcohol or other drugs to help him/her get through a bad day or face an adverse day.

Factors that can contribute to homelessness and substance abuse

Factors that lead to the misuse of drugs through adolescent homelessness are as follows:

  • Grows up in a family without stable homes, or even no home
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Abusive family (one who experiences abuse in their family)
  • Inadequate stress management skills
  • Co-occurring disorders
  • Surrounding environment (other people use substances around them)
  • Heavy initiation (very young) for substance abuse
  • Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse
  • Fleeing or escaping from home

Untreated young adults are far more vulnerable to long-term substance abuse and co-occurring disorders.

Homelessness and drug abuse implications

For the homeless population of the country, lack of shelter and food are not the only problems they face daily. Substance abuse, as we’ve mentioned, is one of the biggest problems these individuals face. The combination of homelessness and drug abuse can be fatal for some. The problem of substance abuse can only further worsen problems these individuals face every day, like hunger, sleeplessness, and unhappiness.

Substance misuse increases these issues and gives rise to fresh concerns. The use of drugs and alcohol is can only create more issues for these people. No matter what substance a homeless individual chooses to use, they can greatly affect the ability of a person to make safe and competent choices/decisions. They may suffer from health deterioration, increased chances of developing diseases, or even overdose. There is a wide range of problems that can be brought to life through a habit like substance abuse, and they are as follows:

  • The overall health of a person starts to deteriorate.
  • Housing, food or clothes cannot be provided for them.
  • Troubles with the law because of public intoxication or possession of illicit substances.
  • Lack of financial stability.
  • Lack of finances makes it difficult to find jobs due to poor hygiene and lack of clean clothes.
  • Lack of finances makes it difficult to find proper medical treatment for diseases they may have developed from exposure or substance abuse.

Substance abuse and homelessness

Estimates are showing 33% of homeless people have trouble with mental health. Sources mention mental health as a major cause of poverty, sometimes culminating in drug and alcohol abuse. Common mental illnesses with which the homeless fight are as follows:

  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Paranoia or Hallucinations
  • Schizoaffective disorder / schizophrenia
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (particularly high in homeless veterans)
  • Severe depression and anxiety

In addition to mental health, marginalized people with mental problems are more likely to fall victim to attacks and need more protection with harmful substances on a temporary basis. Homeless individuals often feel as though ingesting harmful substances can temporarily numb their psychological or physical illnesses.  Psychological issues mixed with substance abuse are called concurrent illnesses or co-occurring disorders. Although some people feel as though drugs and alcohol use can suppress difficult psychological conditions, it does create a damaging cycle of dependency and addiction.

Transitional housing is often recognized as a way of tackling problems with the use of substances and often supported through emergency shelters and restoration facilities. Such housing options also assist individuals in overcoming withdrawal, which is the body’s last-ditch effort in trying to get a person to use substances again. The issue is that many people do not qualify and wind up staying on the streets in environments that only encourage their substance use habits. Unfortunately, due to a lack of affordable housing options, most patients who have drug use disorders have no place to live once they are discharged from the clinic or treatment center.

Approaches to homelessness and drug abuse care

Unfortunate, regular treatment centers are far too expensive for these individuals. The lack of funds makes it impossible for homeless individuals to attend an official addiction treatment center. We need to work towards making affordable options for individuals who cannot afford treatment centers. If we want to break the cycle of addiction, substance abuse, and homelessness, we need to establish affordable housing and treatment options for these populations. If we do not do this, the vicious cycle of poverty and substance abuse will continue.

Several municipalities and community organizations have initiated programs to support vulnerable people who have a problem with housing, mental health, and substance abuse. It is important to understand the need for shelter and homeless assistance services.

Moreover, we should not only address homelessness and the consumption of drugs but also assist the most vulnerable people of society in building their lives so they can be successful and not wind up on the streets. There are millions of people who would benefit from more community service programs, it is up to us to help drive the change we are looking for in society.