Addiction and homelessness have had a long-standing correlation throughout history. For those who live under the grip of addiction without housing arrangements, there is an immense risk to one’s health and wellness. And with the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the risks of illness to homeless populations have a dramatically increased risk of life-threatening illness due to poor hygienic conditions and unsanitary living arrangements.

For those who are subject to addiction, they are at an even higher risk due to a compromised immune system due to substance use. Repeated drug and alcohol use has been shown to increase susceptibility to diseases, and decrease the body’s natural ability to defend itself.

In a survey from 2008, results show that 68% of officials interpret substance abuse as the main cause behind the occurrence of homelessness in single adults. However, the dynamic is shown to be more complicated.

Addiction is notorious for sabotaging every facet of its victim’s life. When left unchecked, addiction will take away one’s health, relationships and finances. Consequently, it is not uncommon for the financial drain of addiction to result in the loss of housing arrangement.

In addition, the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic has also introduced an additional layer of difficulties for receiving care. While many individuals are receiving care and support through online services, many in the homeless population do not have reliable access to these kinds of resources.

For friends and loved ones, it can be a horrific circumstance to witness. For many, it can be incredibly difficult if they are unable to help or they cannot think of where to turn for support.

At Stonewall Institute, we understand the struggle that many may be experiencing. We would like to further elaborate on the struggles that many homeless people with addiction are facing, and how all of us can help.

The Data Behind Addiction and Homelessness

Many individuals have noted addiction and substance abuse to be the primary cause of homelessness. Many mainstream media depictions of the relationship between the two have a rather one-way relationship: drug and alcohol addiction are a direct lead to becoming homeless. However, research studies have shown that the dynamic is more complex than a simple causational trajectory.

In an attempt to gain a broader understanding of this dynamic, one can examine several studies to cross-examine correlations and inconsistencies in case populations or cultural practices provide an inaccurate representation of a worldwide problem.

For the sake of geographic variety, there are a number of studies on this dynamic available from different areas such as New Haven Connecticut, London England, and Melbourne Australia.

For London’s study from 2009, a total of 489 homeless people were questioned in a survey about the nature that addiction may have played into their circumstances. 63% of the individuals noted that abuse substances (primarily alcoholism) was one of the primary reason that their housing situation either became severely destabilized or lost altogether. But as an interesting detail, 80% of the participants reporting to begin using a new substance after they became homeless.

An interesting counterbalance to this survey outcome comes from New Haven, Connecticut. When asked about the cause as to their homelessness, only 25% of participants attributed their predicament to substance abuse; much of that percentage being due to cocaine abuse.

As somewhat of a middle of the two previous studies, Melbourne researchers found that 43% of 4,291 homeless individuals attributed their situation to drug abuse. However, over 60% of participants noted that substance abuse problems began after the destabilization or loss of housing.

You can view more data from these studies here.

What Does This Data on Addiction and Homelessness Mean?

For participants in the studies from different countries, there are several overarching concepts that remain consistent.

The first conclusion one might draw is that substance abuse does not always constitute the main cause for one’s homelessness. In fact, for areas like New Haven, their percentage of addiction being present in the loss of housing was within only approximately a quarter of the people interviewed.

Secondly, the data from all three of these studies show contrasting statistics in terms of addiction’s role in their geographic areas. While analysts may look to the nature of the study being conducted, a countertheory could be posited that there are other external factors that play into the lives of those in each study beyond the presence of substance abuse and addiction.

Thirdly, it can be noted that there is an escalation of substance use seen in individuals after becoming homeless.

The third concept presents an illuminating idea; just as substance abuse may contribute to the occurrence of homelessness, perhaps homelessness itself may also have a contribution to substance abuse as well.

The Complexity of Drug and Alcohol Addiction and Homelessness

To illuminate more on the idea of this synergistic relationship, there are other noted elements that would benefit one to examine.

As we’ve seen from previous studies, there is a logical correlation for addiction and substance abuse to play a role in the loss of housing arrangements. There have been many stories and case studies surrounding individuals whose addiction became so all-encompassing that their finances were sacrificed in order to feed their addiction. In addition, many people have lost their employment directly due to substance abuse. Both the loss of current funds and gainful employment are the primary cause of homelessness. Thus, it can certainly be posited that rampant substance abuse can have a direct influence of one’s loss of housing.

On the other side of the spectrum, there is also plausibility in homelessness having a direct influence on the continual use of psychoactive substances. Given the stress and social isolation of homelessness, many people in this predicament are far more likely to find themselves in need a coping mechanism. And since many homeless people do not have the same degree of access to community resources (particularly online resources), their ability to receive a sense of relief outside of substances is a much narrower prospect.

The concept of disaffiliation (the loss of community belonging) is another important factor that may inhibit one’s ability to pursue recovery from substance abuse due to homelessness. Given that recovery often heavily relies on community support (often found in public communities, churches and professional/business relationships), the social stigma of homelessness may often prevent many of those without housing to build and/or maintain healthy social relationships (However, it should be noted that while these inhibitions to social connections may be found in many homeless people, this does not mean that those without housing are unable to form effective social bonds). 

In addition, it has also been noted that other elements may also contribute to the synergy between addiction and homelessness. Many of these factors include racism, discrimination for sexual orientation, unfavorable family dynamics, traumatic events, and mental illness. These elements may all contribute by either adding stress in the individual’s life, inhibit effective and meaningful connection, or physically prevent an individual from receiving the care they need.

In order to help people dealing with addiction and homelessness, it is vital that each person is assessed on an individual basis. Every person has a unique circumstance in their life, and beginning to understand what they are going through is the step in getting them the help they need.

Getting Help for Drug and Alcohol Addiction.

At Stonewall Institute, we firmly believe that no matter the issues we may face, there is still hope and help available. For people dealing with addiction and homelessness, there are steps that both treatment facilities and concerned individuals can take to assist this population during thes difficult times.

Kimberly Weis, a Recovery Peer Advocate based in southern Missouri, had an accurate statement regarding the need for adequate for the homeless during this time.

“Evidence shows that in order for a client to find recovery, to make their way out of addiction, they need to be connected to not only their community, but their recovery community and support system. Once they return home, reconnected, they no longer feel the need to use drugs to deal with their isolation. The coronavirus has essentially closed or cancelled nearly all in-person NA, AA, and community recovery groups. Many inpatient facilities are no longer accepting clients because of the threat of a person bringing the virus into a center.” Weis says.

During these difficult times, it is important that for loved ones dealing with homelessness, we can find ways to support them in ways that allow them to regain their sense of self-sufficiency. This may often manifest through assisting them in finding housing, medical care, employment, and connection to social support.

From there, facilities like ours can begin to help people take their first steps in recovery. Our licensed clinicians will be able to provide a strong foundation of knowledge and skills to help ascertain the root of one’s addictive behaviors, as well as rebuild his/her life through recovery. From there, we will also help to connect with peer-support groups to further reduce the threat of relapsing. In addition, our professionals may also be able to find sober housing arrangements to ensure that your loved ones will have a place to stay for the duration of their treatment. If you or a loved one need help for drug and alcohol addiction, please feel free to contact us at 602-535-6468 and we can help you get started with a new life in recovery.