The Connection Between Homelessness And Addiction

In 2022, there are approximately 582,462 people affected by long-term homelessness in the United States. The US homeless population is increasing yearly, particularly in younger age ranges. Tragically, homelessness and substance abuse go hand in hand. The National Coalition for the Homeless has found that 55% of homeless people are alcohol dependent, and 25% reported being dependent on other harmful substances.

Often, addiction is a result of homelessness. The difficult conditions of living on the street, having to find food, struggling with ill health, and being constantly away from loved ones create a highly stressful state of being. Individuals suffering from homelessness may additionally develop psychiatric conditions in response to a harsh lifestyle often characterized by feeling threatened by violence, starvation, and a lack of shelter and love.

Homelessness, Mental Disorders, And Addiction

The 2022 Annual Homeless Assessment Report found that over 122,000 people living in homelessness suffer from severe mental illness, another major cause of homelessness, which often leads to drug and alcohol abuse. Common mental disorders the homeless struggle with include:

Homeless individuals suffering from mental conditions are more likely to be victims of assault, further necessitating the comfort they temporarily find in harmful substances. Homeless individuals suffering difficult mental and emotional conditions may find it convenient to self-medicate with harmful substances as well, strengthening the link between homelessness and substance abuse. The combination of mental disorders and substance abuse is known as dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. While it may seem that difficult mental conditions can be suppressed by drug and alcohol use, this actually creates a destructive cycle of dependency.

Homelessness And Substance Abuse: Women

In 2022, there were 222,970 homeless women in the US. Women suffer unique gender-based trauma, contributing to the higher amounts of drug when compared to men. 50% to 60% of homeless women suffer mental and emotional disturbances, with these phenomena often pre-dating their homelessness. These disturbances often become more severe when combined with homelessness and substance abuse.

Many homeless women become homeless after experiencing domestic violence or sexual trauma; some are victims who have escaped sex trafficking. These factors, along with co-occurring disorders from homelessness, have contributed to the fact that approximately one-third of homeless women have abused heroin and crack cocaine.

Homelessness And Substance Abuse: Youth And Young Adults

As of 2022, there are over 30,000 homeless youths and young adults (people aged 25 and younger) in the US, and many are victims of substance abuse. Polydrug use is common among this population, and homeless youth are more likely to have co-occurring mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Factors contributing to such youth homelessness and substance abuse include:

  • Growing up in a homeless family
  • Family abuse
  • Maladaptive coping mechanics to stress
  • Early use of substance (using at a young age)
  • Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse
  • Running away from home

Homeless youths with substance abuse issues are much more vulnerable to long-term substance abuse and untreated co-occurring disorders, which follow them into adulthood.

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Homelessness And Substance Abuse: The LGBTQ Community

LGBTQ populations suffer from high rates of drug and alcohol abuse. They also suffer from minority stress, stress which stems from internalized feelings of cultural/social exclusion and fuels their chemical dependency. It was reported that 6,678 members of the LGBTQ community were homeless in 2022.

Members of the LGBTQ community are not immune to the devastating effects of homelessness and substance abuse. More members of this community face depression, PTSD, anxiety, suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide), and self-medicating with substance when homeless. According to Psychology Today, homeless LGBTQ Americans “have the highest number of illicit drug use.” Homeless lesbian women (and lesbian women in general) report higher numbers of alcohol abuse in response to the internalized disorders and minority stress. When homeless, homosexual Americans are more subjected to violence and sexual assault compared to their heterosexual counterparts. In particular, homelessness is more common in the transgender community; members of the transgender community often struggle with housing and job discrimination.

Hope Is Not Lost: Get Help Today

Connections between homelessness and addiction are unfortunate manifestations of cause and effect, but hope is not lost. Licensed professionals at rehab facilities can help to make the treatment process more safe. For more information on your treatment options, contact a treatment provider today.