Living on the streets can be traumatic. The National Coalition for the Homeless indicates that homeless individuals suffer from extreme forms of anxiety and depression, along with low self-esteem. In fact, they found that the rates of mental illness to be significantly higher compared to those who are not homeless. Furthermore, homeless individuals are prone to suicide attempts and self-harming behavior, such as cutting their wrists, burning the skin, and self-tattooing. Sadly, although many of homeless individuals are suffering from depression and other forms of mental illness, very few have access to mental health services.
According to EndHomlessness.Org, there are 610,042 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States. Of that number, 222,197 are people in families, and 387,845 are individuals. About 18 percent of the homeless population are considered to be chronically homeless, and about 9 percent of homeless adults are veterans.
Of course, a major consequence to being homeless is the presence of drugs, and because of frequent emotional and psychological challenges, particularly mental illness, drugs become an attractive choice as a way to self-medicate and ease the painful stress of life’s instability. Research has shown that the use of drugs and alcohol increases among those whose living situations become more and more stressful and unstable. Out of desperation to survive, homeless individuals will commit crime such as theft, assault, and trespassing. One fifth of homeless individuals have admitted to stealing. Many have needed to break into abandoned buildings in order to find a place to sleep and/or live temporarily. Along these lines, some male and female individuals will also resort to prostitution in order to survive. Within the homeless community, this is known as survival sex, where intercourse is exchanged for money, shelter, and/or food. The consequences of homelessness are severe. Attention to this social matter is not only warranted; it speaks to the illness of society as a whole.
Addiction help for those who are homeless will often begin with addressing their immediate needs. For instance, medical issues, hygiene concerns, and their needs for shelter and food are the start to providing them with the help they need. Once their immediate needs are addressed, recovery from drugs and alcohol can begin. However, even then, that kind of addiction help may not be able to start right away. In fact, for those who are addicted to heroin, for example, recovery might include providing them medication, such as methadone or suboxone, in order to tend to their psychological and physical opiate dependence.
Once an individual is off the streets and their physical needs are being met, the next step might be assessing whether there are any mental illnesses. As pointed out above, many of those who are homeless often experience psychological illness, such as depression, anxiety, or posttraumatic stress disorder. Addiction help would also include addressing their psychological needs, such as providing individual therapy and perhaps psychotropic medication.
Once a homeless person has stabilized and their basic needs are being met, addiction help may continue with finally addressing their addiction. Perhaps then he or she might be able to attend substance abuse treatment. There, that individual can learn about the patterns of addiction and how the experience of homelessness can feed an addiction.
Although substance abuse is much more common among homeless people than in the general population, it’s important to point out that not all homeless individuals experience substance abuse or addiction. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that 38% of homeless people were dependent on alcohol and 26% abused other drugs. Alcohol abuse is more common in older generations, while drug abuse is more common in homeless youth and young adults. Furthermore, for some, homelessness can precede addiction, while for many, addiction and substance abuse is the cause of homelessness. Yet, regardless of which came first, homelessness is an incredibly difficult life experience.