Addiction and the Homeless

Dr. Purushothaman
January 12, 2014


Every day the homeless in American struggle with addiction and alcoholism. We see it on the streets nearly everywhere we go  seemingly intoxicated homeless people asking for money or other types of assistance. They don't have jobs and in many cases they are incapable of getting jobs or are simply unemployable as a result of disability, illness or even physical appearance. A great deal of this is often related to addiction, and with the poor support systems available for homeless people, once addicted it can be extremely difficult to break the cycle and survive. However, the associations between the homeless and substance abuse and alcoholism are often misunderstood  much to the detriment of our society. Understanding the issue is essential to developing a plan to curb and prevent both homelessness and addiction.
Few people pause to consider that in a great majority of cases it was drug abuse and addiction that actually led to a person becoming homeless. Addicted individuals that do not get the right help at the right time are likely to lose their jobs, careers, education, family, relationships and eventually even their place of residence because of their drug use. Some people may completely alienate those who would help, while many addicts are simply too proud to ask for help, or don't know how or where to find it. In cases like this the person will generally end up homeless, with no recourse but whatever public assistance is available. In a 2008 survey by the United States Conference of Mayors, 25 US cities were asked what the leading cause of homelessness in their city was. The result was astonishing: 68% of respondents cited substance abuse and addiction as the principle cause of homelessness in their city. Additionally, the study also discovered that more than 2/3 of homeless people interviewed admitted to drug problems or alcoholism.
However, not every homeless person ended up that way as a result of addiction. In fact, a surprising number of people become homeless for a wide variety of reasons including job loss and layoffs, domestic violence, divorce, and many other reasons. The stress and hopelessness of the homeless life can drive a significant portion of these people to seek solace in drugs or alcohol, and in this state addiction can develop rapidly.
Unfortunately, public perception on the issue of the homeless and addiction is not favorable. Many people feel that by providing the homeless with services or public funds we will only be enabling their addictions. Others believe that most homeless people are simply unmotivated and need only to work in order to recover from their problems. The reality is that no one wants to be homeless, and no one wants to be addicted. Most people who end up addicted and homeless have endured some serious catastrophe in their life that has put the in the situation they are in. Until public perception in this regard changes, it's likely that little will be done to alleviate this serious problem.
Treatment options for the homeless are not readily available. Drug addiction treatment is expensive and many rehabs will only treat a person if they have cash or insurance  neither of which is possessed by most homeless people. And while there are public health and welfare systems that can sometimes pay for treatment, waiting lines are long and it can be difficult for a homeless person to meet all of the requirements.

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