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Substance Abuse and Homelessness - by Maleek Ratliff


It is common for many people to stereotype the unhoused as drug addicts or alcoholics. A high number of people experiencing homelessness do struggle with substance abuse, but it is usually after they lose their housing and not beforehand. If we can start to view addictions as illnesses that require treatment such as counseling, rehab and other supportive methods we can better serve those who struggle with substance abuse and help them overcome it.

Substance Abuse In Relation To Homelessness

For those who severely struggle with substance abuse it often leads to homelessness. An addictive disorder such as substance abuse can cause conflict within relationships amongst friends, family, and your ability to sustain a job. It also doesn’t help if the individual was already struggling to pay their bills before they started abusing substances. This will only leave them with less money to take care of their bills than they had before. Some people who are homeless often turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their circumstances. Doing so may provide a temporary relief from the problems they face, but in reality it places them further away from achieving reliable employment and not living on the streets.


Housed and unhoused Americans who abuse substances do not receive the proper treatment they desperately need. Plenty of unhoused people do not have health insurance which makes substance abuse treatment very limited and in most cases unattainable. Lack of documentation, long waiting lists, and lack of transportation are just a few of the hurdles that unhoused people experience in pursuit of trying to change their circumstances. According to medical and public health experts, treatment and prevention are most effective in helping people who struggle with substance abuse. It's time to do away with the punitive approach that society has set in place and strengthen our current programs to actually help substance abusers get back on track.

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