Homelessness and Addiction: How Do They Relate?

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, approximately 553,742 people were homeless in 2017. However, additional data states that this number might be grossly underestimated. Some research suggests that up to 3 million individuals are experiencing homelessness in the United States. 

Homelessness and addiction are strongly correlated. Recent data shows that one out of every twelve American adults struggles with a substance use disorder. What’s more, is that just a small percentage of people with an addiction get the help they need. For instance, only 2.5 million people out of 22.7 million people with a substance use disorder received specialty treatment for it in 2013. That’s only 11% of this population!

Factors such as these contribute to the United States’ homeless epidemic. However, it’s possible that with professional alcohol or drug addiction treatment and detox, people can avoid homelessness. Addiction and homelessness are complex issues, neither of which are choices. 

What Is Homelessness? 

According to the Homeless Assistance Act from the late 1980s, homelessness is defined by people who lack a proper nighttime residence. It also applies to those whose residence is only supposed to house people temporarily (ie: hotels and motels), is a property only meant to temporarily house those who are institutionalized, and a public/private place not meant to be used as an accommodation. 

This is applicable to individuals and their families. Unfortunately, research shows that families with young children are exceedingly homeless in the United States. Yet, the fact remains that the homeless population is a diverse group. No one is truly safe from becoming homeless, contrary to what some may believe. 

What Is Addiction? 

Addiction is a severe type of substance or alcohol use disorder. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines addiction as a complex condition where those affected are out of control of their substance use even when there are harmful consequences. The APA also notes that an addiction is a chronic brain disorder, making it a health condition

People can develop addictions to anything. Gambling is a serious addiction because the brain can get wired to the “rush” of it. However, alcohol and drugs can be extremely addictive because they directly interact with the brain and body. 

There are four categories the APA uses to determine an addiction: 

  1. Drug effects – Developing a tolerance (needing more to get the same effect or feel normal) and the appearance of withdrawal symptoms 
  2. Impaired control – Strong cravings to drink or do drugs accompanied by the inability to stop doing either, even after trying
  3. Risky use – Drinking and doing drugs in risky situations (ie: driving) even if there are harmful consequences
  4. Social problems – Relationships and responsibilities are disregarded in order to keep drinking or doing drugs 

Since an addiction is a chronic disorder, it means two things. Firstly, it’s chronic, so it will continue to be an issue for those who suffer from it. Secondly and importantly, it’s a condition, so it’s treatable and completely manageable. 

The Link Between Homelessness and Addiction 

Homelessness

Again, homelessness and addiction are complex issues. Yet there is an apparent link between the two for many reasons. One of these reasons is a lack of affordable health care for Americans. Even with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), many people remain uninsured because of the cost. 

Research gathered after the ACA was put in place is that over 73% of uninsured individuals remained that way because it was too expensive.  It’s no surprise that approximately 70% of the homeless population doesn’t have health insurance. When people don’t have health insurance it can lead them to self-medicate out of desperation. 

That is one link between homelessness and addiction, but there are other reasons why: 

Alcohol and substance misuse can lead to homelessness. The opposite is also true, wherein homelessness could lead to addiction. What’s worse is that addiction is sometimes met with incarceration instead of treatment. This leads to fines, difficulty finding work and a place to live, among other factors that contribute to homelessness. 

It’s no wonder that homelessness is a constant threat. However, more recent legislation has helped people with addictions to avoid incarceration or steep consequences when they suffer from a substance or alcohol use disorder. Drug courts across the nation attempt to offer non-violent individuals addiction treatment instead of punishment. Currently, over 3,000 drug courts are in operation across the nation. 

Who Is At Risk For Homelessness and Addiction? 

What Is Homelessness?

Unfortunately, it’s people with health disorders and minorities that are at risk of both addiction and homelessness. Of course, these populations don’t get to choose the way they were born. While homelessness doesn’t discriminate, it largely affects people in these populations.:

People Who Suffer from Mental Illnesses

There are many reasons why people resort to drugs and alcohol. Making emotional and mental pain is a common reason. It just so happens that research indicates that 33% of people experiencing homelessness suffer from a mental illness. 

Those experiencing homelessness often suffer from severe mental illnesses (SMIs) like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, severe anxiety, chronic depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). An SMI is defined by a mental illness that is chronic and deeply impacts a person’s life to where they can’t function properly.  Battling an addiction and an SMI can easily lead to homelessness, especially without any support. Both health disorders together can be classified as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. 

Those suffering from a dual diagnosis will need to get dual diagnosis treatment. This is where both health disorders get treated at the same time. If one is treated without the other, it results in less effective treatment. One might get better and then quickly get worse again without a comprehensive plan. 

Women

Although men and women both experience homelessness, homeless women face a unique situation. Up to 60% of homeless women struggle with emotional and domestic trauma. This alone poses a difficulty for them. This might be a reason why one-third of this population struggle with both heroin and crack cocaine abuse. 

Individuals of Various Sexual Orientation and Gender Identities

Minorities within the LGBTQ+ spectrum unfortunately are more at risk to face addiction and homelessness. They have a 120% higher chance of becoming homeless than cisgender and heterosexual people. Americans in the minority (ie: gay people and transgender people) often struggle to come to terms that they don’t perfectly fit in with the majority. They might even experience prejudice because of this. 

Again, being isolated without help makes homelessness more of a possibility. Plus, transphobes or homophobes might discriminate against them in the workforce, making it harder to find work. Factors like this may contribute to the fact that they have higher rates of drug use and alcohol abuse than other groups. 

Minority Races

Black people make up a minority of the population in the United States. Yet, they make up close to half of all the homeless population in the USA. The National Alliance to End Homelessness found that around 40% of Black people make up the homeless population in comparison to the 13% of Black people that make up the U.S. population as a whole. On top of this, minorities as a whole make up the majority of the homeless population. 

Individuals Dealing with Poverty 

All the factors above contribute to homelessness, but poverty is one of the main reasons people become homeless. Losing a job can be difficult with support. Yet, losing a job and being impoverished is one of the main factors that contribute to homelessness risk factors. 

If someone lives in an expensive area and is just above the poverty level, they will be left out of many government assistance programs. If he or she happens to lose their job they can rapidly become homeless. Plus, they might have a difficult time getting access to affordable healthcare without a job. 

What Percentage of Homeless Are Addicts? 

Research from the National Coalition for the Homeless suggests that 38% of people experiencing homelessness suffer from an alcohol use disorder. Also, 26% of this group have a substance use disorder unrelated to alcohol. A part of homelessness stems from the fact that people experiencing it have a lack of support. They are disconnected from friends, family, and people that could help their situation. 

Support is a main component in addiction recovery. Without a support network, it’s difficult to have a safety net to fall back on when dealing with trying times. This includes going through health issues with mental illness and an alcohol or substance use disorder. It can be incredibly lonely.

It’s physically and mentally taxing to have to fight for basic human necessities like food, water, and shelter. People in better conditions lean on drugs and alcohol to cope. So, it’s not hard to see why someone experiencing homelessness might abuse drugs and alcohol to have small moments of solace. 

Coastal Detox Knows Homelessness and Addiction Aren’t Choices 

Addiction can lead to homelessness. Neglecting to treat a substance use or alcohol use disorder often makes the situation direr than it was initially. Coastal Detox provides affordable addiction detox options that are effective. Contact us now if you or a loved one is struggling with drugs and alcohol. 

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Real Client Testimonials

  • Before coming to coastal I was hopeless, helpless, and my family wanted nothing to do with me. It wasn’t the first detox I’d ever been to, but it was the only one who showed me so much love and compassion. They gave me hope. It’s hard to put into words the amount of gratitude I have for this facility. The employees were my family when I had none. The staff went out of their way to make sure not only were my physical needs taken care of, but my emotional needs as well. From the first phone call prior to admission, to helping me set up continuing care, they never missed a beat. Even going as far as to help me with my legal issues via Zoom court. This isn’t just a detox, they are the family I never had. All of the techs, especially Karen, are phenomenal. They will take the time to listen to you, laugh, and cry(if needed) with you. If you are reading this and you or your loved one is suffering like I was, go to Coastal Detox. The level of care is more than I could ever put into a review. It wasn’t the first detox I’d been to, but it has been my last; I owe them everything I have today, including my life.

    Travis B. Avatar
    Travis B.
    12/07/2020
  • Had a really good experience at Coastal. The staff really went above and beyond in helping me get in and gave me the respect l, space and care I needed after I first got there. As I started to fell better they encouraged me to take part in groups which helped get me out of my head and bring positivity and health to my thinking. They had a great massage therapist, who came daily and it was evident the nursing staff genuinely cared. Got to know some of the staff as well and I’m grateful for the cooks Joe and Chris. Those guys literally made us sirloins and pork chops for dinner. Also I gotta thank Chris and Chris for helping me get in and setting me up with a transition plan. Real grateful for that help, I’m not sure if it’s management intention to hire guys named Chris but they got a good thing going there. Overall, I’m clean and sober today and walking it out. Coastal gave me a base that set me up for the success that I’m walking in today

    Brandon B. Avatar
    Brandon B.
    1/16/2020
  • My family is very thankful for Coastal Detox. They have went above and beyond for my son a few times. Unfortunately he has needed their help more than once and they have ever turned their back on him, even when he was at his worst. Jeannie and Chris have been amazing and kept me informed through the entire process. They truly care about the addict and want to help them especially when it would be easy to give up on them. I had many detox facilities be rude and uncaring to me when I was searching for help for my son, but Coastal never did that to us. I don't know the names of all the team members that have helped my son but I know their are many and y'all are angels!! One day we will be able to pay it forward and help someone as you have helped us. Thank you for all you do!!

    Brenda A. Avatar
    Brenda A.
    1/01/2020
  • Can not say enough nice things about Coastal Detox & staff. Family member was there, told me five stars for the facility & all whom she interacted with. Said the facilities, ambience..., cleanliness, grounds, food, (think their chef is five stars), were all top shelf. All I interacted with personally & on the phone were patient, professional, responsive & caring. Kudos to so many: Jeannie Jones, Clinical Director whom I spent the most face to face time with: great oversight, patience & follow thru. Raquel Barker, Therapist was so understanding & on spot with her assessments/care. Kris Garrigus Admissions Director, another Coastal professional whom I cannot say enough nice things about, always so patient & responsive to my probably too frequent inquires. Not to be forgotten is Judy Tucker, Director of Operations she too so patiently "put up with me"
    I highly recommend Coastal Detox

    Susan C. Avatar
    Susan C.
    11/13/2019
  • Can not say enough nice things about Coastal Detox & staff. Family member was there, told me five stars for the facility & all whom she interacted with. Said the facilities, ambience..., cleanliness, grounds, food, (think their chef is five stars), were all top shelf. All I interacted with personally & on the phone were patient, professional, responsive & caring. Kudos to so many: Jeannie Jones, Clinical Director whom I spent the most face to face time with: great oversight, patience & follow thru. Raquel Barker, Therapist was so understanding & on spot with her assessments/care. Kris Garrigus Admissions Director, another Coastal professional whom I cannot say enough nice things about, always so patient & responsive to my probably too frequent inquires. Not to be forgotten is Judy Tucker, Director of Operations she too so patiently "put up with me"
    I highly recommend Coastal Detox

    Susan C. Avatar
    Susan C.
    11/06/2019

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