A major problem facing many American cities is homeless alcoholism. Few populations experience rates of alcohol use disorders as the homeless.
The Problem of Homeless Alcoholism
Homeless alcoholism is a serious social issue with a significant stigma attached to it, but the scope of the problem is massive. In 2016, the Department of Housing and Urban Development reported more than “549,900 people, including 120,819 children, experienced homelessness.” In 2016, 39,500 veterans were found homeless in a single night. 38% of homeless people were alcohol dependent, finding it difficult to remain sober and achieve stability.
Many looking at the homeless community assume they abuse alcohol or other drugs and are not deserving of love and compassion. However, it is wise to remember many within the homeless population struggle with threats to safety, mental illness, lack of food, medical attention, and a loss of housing.
Alcoholism is both caused by and a cause of homelessness. Some members of the homeless population turn to alcohol to combat the stress of daily living and dangers, while others have suggested substance abuse is the cause of their homelessness. A study mentions homeless men in particular drinking to cope with the financial instability brought on by homelessness.
Studies show substance abuse is highest in younger homeless populations, those between 18 and 23 years of age. 30% to 70% of homeless youth abuse substances. Alcohol use is more common among older homeless people. For many, the cycle of alcohol abuse continues for many years, causing strained relationships with families and friends.
The effects of homeless alcoholism are noticeable. Homeless individuals who abuse alcohol are reported to remain homeless for longer amounts of time than sober homeless people.
Homeless Alcoholism and Co-occurring Disorders
Co-occurring disorders, mental disorders that are present alongside alcoholism, in the homeless population are directly related to alcohol and drug abuse. Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression in the homeless population are all linked to drug and alcohol abuse.
A reported 202,297 people who were homeless had co-occurring disorders.
1 in 4 homeless women have a mental illness. 47% of homeless women meet the standards for major depressive disorder, which is more than twice the amount of women in the general population.
Homeless veterans reported high numbers of PTSD due to experiences in combat. For homeless veterans, of whom more are men than women, lack of housing and family support can additionally create feelings of hopelessness, which can cause many to further spiral into alcoholism.
Homeless Alcoholism and Women
Women and families make up the fastest growing group of the homeless population. Homeless women abusing alcohol tend to be single homeless women compared to homeless women with children. Many homeless women have experienced trauma in their lives and retreat to the streets. 68% of homeless women have experienced deep trauma, such as:
- Fathers who abandoned them emotionally and/or physically
- Boyfriends who sold them into prostitution
- Husbands or boyfriends who physically beat them
- A male relative who molested or sexually assaulted them
While in shelters, homeless women have reported being exposed to further traumas in shelters or on the streets. It is estimated:
- 40 percent of homeless women in shelters have reported rape or sexual assault
- 20 percent traded sex for money or alcohol, shelter, or food
- 55 percent did not have access to safe restrooms
- 92 percent of homeless mothers have experienced sexual trauma in their lifetime
Such conditions can create or worsen anxiety, self-blame, anger, depression, and feelings of paranoia for homeless women both with or without families.
Rehab as Housing and Access to Treatment
Alcohol is widely used on the streets in homeless populations, making the decision to stop a truly difficult one. The difficulty of living on the streets away from family members and traumatic experiences can worsen alcohol use. Many treatment facilities open to treating homeless people with substance abuse problems provide shelter and access to medicines, along with nutritional meals. Being homeless in a shelter provides safety and a lesser likelihood of substance abuse and exposure to drugs and alcohol.
Getting help is not impossible. Contact a treatment professional today. It could save your life.
Clinical Reviewer — Last Reveiwed: April 12, 2019
Abram, Susan. (2017). I’ve Had to Become Tough: How Homeless Women Survive the Dangers of Skid Row. Retrieved on March 30,2018 at https://www.dailynews.com/2017/06/24/ive-had-to-become-tough-how-homeless-women-survive-the-dangers-of-skid-row/
Wenzel, Susanne L, Green, Harold D, Tucker, Joan S, Golinello, Daniela, Kennedy, David P, Ryan, Gery, Zhou, Annie, (2009). The Social Context of Homeless Women’s Alcohol and Drug Use. Retrieved on March 30,2018 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2743751/
Clark, Colleen, Young, Scott M, Barrett, Blake. (2011). A Transactional Model of Homelessness and Alcoholism: Developing Solutions for Complex Problems. Retrieved on March 30,2018 at http://intra.cbcs.usf.edu/PublicationTracker/common/file/161/Homelessness%20and%20alcoholism.pdf
Tsai, Jack. Rosenheck, Robert A. (2015). Risk Factors for Homelessness Among US Veterans. Retrieved on March 30,2018 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4521393/
SAMHSA.com (2017). Homelessness and Housing. Retrieved on March 30,2018 at https://www.samhsa.gov/homelessness-housing
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