Alcoholism among the Homeless

Alcoholism among the homeless is a significant problem in the United States. A study conducted by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported 58% to 68% of homeless men and 30% of homeless women meet the definition for alcohol abuse or outright dependence (compared to 7.8% of the general population). Understanding the relationship between homelessness and alcoholism or drug abuse is critical to developing workable solutions to helping this most vunerable of American social groups.

One route to homelessness is through the loss of income. The path way often goes from loss of income to loss of housing to living with family and friends to living in a shelter to living on the streets. Living on the streets can include sleeping in parked cars, abandoned buildings, parks, underpasses and bus or train terminals. In these places, the homeless become difficult to reach and the chances for receiving any treatment significantly diminish. In fact, some homelessness may result from a poorly planned discharge from a residential treatment center or other hospitalization or incarceration related to alcohol or substance abuse.

In many situations, substance abuse is often the direct cause of homelessness. Alcoholism disrupts relationships with family and friends. It can often cause people to lose their jobs. For people who are already struggling to pay their
bills, an addiction to alcohol may cause them to lose their housing. In fact, a study by the National Coalition for the Homeless reported that two-thirds of homeless individuals said that drugs or alcohol were a major reason why they became homeless.

The relationship of alcoholism to homeless people is reciprocal in that substance abuse can be a cause and effect of homelessness. When the limited resources a homeless individual has is expended on alcohol, maintaining stable housing becomes that much harder. This isn’t helped by the stress and danger associated with homelessness which feeds back to the reliance on alcohol as a coping strategy. In fact, the tie between the homeless and alcoholism may be the fact that alcohol becomes a way to adapt to life on the streets.

For many homeless people, substance abuse co-occurs with some form of mental illness. People with untreated mental illnesses sometimes use alcohol to self- medicate. Homeless people with both substance disorders and mental illness experience additional, serious obstacles to recovery.

Traditional treatment options are usually not effective among the homeless population. Providers are reluctant to treat homeless individuals because of the threat of unpredictable behavior, high-risk medical issues and persistent need without results. Currently, there are no definitive treatment strategies for alcohol related interventions among homeless people.

If you or someone you love is suffering from both addiction and homelessness, the time to get help is now. The risk of violence, disease and injury is too great to delay taking action. Call the number at the top of your screen now for an immediate consultation with an addictions expert. We can help you no matter what time it is or how far away you are, so call now before it’s too late.

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Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff, American Addiction Centers

The editorial staff of Recovery First is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands... Read More

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