Addiction and Homelessness: Correlation or Causation?

Most people consider a home to be a necessity. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world today, having a home has become more of a luxury that only a select number of people can enjoy. This is even the case in some parts of America. In fact, homelessness has become a growing issue in the United States in the last decade or so. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, more than 578,000 Americans were sleeping on the streets in as recent as 2014. What could be the cause of this? Recent investigative studies have shown that there is a connection between substance abuse, addiction, and homelessness.

What Defines Homelessness?

For most people, homelessness is temporary. With this in mind, defining homelessness can be tricky since the situation varies from person to person. Still, most would describe homelessness as a lack of adequate and permanent residence. The circumstances of homelessness that people typically experience might include:

Unsheltered Homelessness

People without shelter live on the streets. This particular type of homelessness is one that is a widespread problem in the United States. Most of the time, homeless people living on the streets find some shelter through extreme measures. This includes sleeping in cars, camping in public spaces like parks, or taking up residence in abandoned or condemned buildings. This is especially true for those who don’t have access to emergency shelters or don’t have family that lives in the area.

Temporarily Sheltered Homelessness

People with temporary shelter live in emergency shelters or transitional housing. Although they aren’t living on the streets, this is still technically a form of homelessness. Unfortunately, temporary accommodations aren’t always available, so many people facing homelessness are still at risk of ending up on the streets.

Doubled-Up Homelessness

People in this state of homelessness rely on friends or family for temporary accommodations. Due to the high rates of unemployment among the homeless population, most homeless guests are unable to contribute financially to the household. In other words, they can’t pay back their hosts by the taking care of things like rent or bills. This lack of contribution may result in the hosts turning their homeless loved ones away. This is especially true if the homeless guest has a substance use disorder.

The Roots of Homelessness

35% were struggling with substance abuse disordersThe connection between addiction and homelessness is becoming more and more apparent, especially with the studies being released to show the correlation. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), the growing rates of homelessness reflect several active economic, health, and personal lifestyle trends in this country today. Most of the time, homelessness is the result of factors like:

  • No access to affordable healthcare
  • Few public assistance programs
  • Lack of job opportunities
  • No affordable housing
  • Home foreclosures

Still, there are other reasons outside of changes in the economy that can cost people their homes. The NCH cites both addiction and mental illness as two significant contributors to homelessness. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) supports these findings. Their reports indicate that roughly 26% of America?s homeless population suffers from some form of mental illness. Meanwhile, an overlapping 35% struggle with substance abuse disorders.

The Effects of Substance Abuse and Mental Illness on the Rates of Homelessness

homelessness - more than 578 americans sleeping on the streetsInvestigations from several organizations yielded similar results. In fact, the 2014 U.S. Conference of Mayors Survey found that almost 43% of 25 different city populations consider mental illness and substance abuse to be the two primary causes of homelessness. This same study found that roughly two-thirds of the people surveyed believed that substance abuse alone was the number one cause of homelessness. Similar results were found in a separate research survey, where two-thirds of the homeless focus group cited drug or alcohol abuse as a major contributing factor to their homelessness.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that more than 50% of the homeless individuals living shelters struggle with either substance addiction, mental health disorders, or both. This is especially problematic since addiction and mental illness have both been proven to inhibit the ability to build and maintain a stable life. After all, substance abuse disorders and physiological disorders? especially concurrent ones? often feed into the depressive and delusional self-destructive cycles that can ultimately lead to homelessness.

Substance Abuse and Homelessness: Does One Cause the Other?

Substance abuse can affect anyone for any number of reasons. Nearly 23.5 million people in America turn to substance abuse to cope with stress, loss, or other forms of dysfunction in life. A fraction of them may become homeless as a result. Years of research suggests that substance abuse disorders and concurrent mental health issues are far more common among the homeless than among other demographics. In fact, it has been determined by multiple sources that:

  • roughly 38% of homeless individuals abuse alcohol
  • alcohol abuse is more common among older homeless adults
  • roughly 26% of homeless individuals abuse drugs (but not alcohol)
  • drug abuse is more common among younger homeless adults

The correlation seems pretty clear: substance abuse disorders and any co-occurring mental health issues are the roots of homelessness for many people. And, unfortunately, this can make addiction treatment a bit of a challenge.

Addiction Treatment Options for the Homeless Population

Homelessness, are they getting addiction help?It goes without saying that those who are homeless don?t have access to the resources necessary to make getting addiction treatment possible, like health insurance or transportation. Without these things, and without access to appropriate addiction treatment, many homeless people remain trapped in a cycle of poverty and substance abuse that will only worsen other areas of health, like physical and mental health. Unfortunately, less than one-quarter of homeless people struggling with addiction ever receive the treatment they need. Thankfully, this issue has been gaining more attention in recent years. Many addiction treatment facilities are now beginning to implement programs to help the homeless who struggle with substance abuse and mental health disorders.

While most addicted homeless individuals seek treatment at psychiatric hospitals or emergency rooms, other options are becoming more available. Several addiction treatment facilities share many of the same characteristics when it comes to treating homeless individuals. These include, but are not limited to:

  • a compassionate and experienced medically trained care staff
  • integrated services (i.e., dual diagnosis treatment programs)
  • comprehensive and holistic services
  • access to stable long-term housing
  • personalized treatment plans

All of these factors of addiction treatment for the homeless are equally important. The only kind of facility to encompass all of them and more is residential addiction care.

Addiction and Mental Health Help at TTC?s Residential Care Facility

Overcoming substance addiction and all the emotional and mental turmoil that comes with it is a feat that requires intensive care, personalized treatments, follow-ups, and unconditional support. These are all things that many homeless people might not have access to? at least, not without help. If you know someone who is struggling with homelessness, substance abuse, mental illness, or other similar issues all at once, please call The Treatment Center?s Residential Care facility at (844) 201-3136. Help TTC Care make a difference.


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