Addiction and Homelessness

People who are homeless suffer from substance abuse and addiction at a greater rate than those who have homes. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SMAHA) estimates that roughly 38% of the homeless suffers from an alcohol dependency while 26% abuse drugs.

The Correlation Between Addiction and Homelessness

Homelessness is a broad term to describe someone who doesn’t have a permanent residence. While homelessness is often associated with living on the street, that is not always the case.

Homeless individuals may live in an emergency shelter, transitional housing, or a car. Alternatively, they may bounce around from place to place, staying with people they know. By definition, anyone who does not have “a regular, adequate, and stable night-time residence” can be considered homeless. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, in 2020, more than 500,000 people in the U.S. were considered homeless on a nightly basis.

Homeless people suffer from alcohol and drug addiction at a higher rate than those who have permanent residences. Due to their financial situation, they also don’t have access to the level of care needed to address their drug, alcohol, and mental health issues.

Many homeless people find themselves in their current situation due to their addiction. As a result of their addiction, they might have lost their house because they could no longer pay their bills, or their partner or spouse might have thrown them out.

On the flip side, people who are homeless might turn to drugs or alcohol while living on the street as a form of self-medication to numb the proverbial pain of living on the street.

Addiction and Homelessness Statistics

A survey by the United States Conference of Mayors in conjunction with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that 68% of cities reported that substance abuse was the largest cause of homelessness among single adults.

Below are some additional facts and statistics about addiction and homelessness:

  • Approximately 38% of all homeless people abuse alcohol
  • About 26% of all homeless people abuse drugs
  • Close to two-thirds of homeless veterans suffer from alcohol or drug abuse
  • Homeless people are nine times more likely to die from an opioid overdose than the general population

Demographics Most Affected by Homelessness and Addiction

Race, gender, and ethnicity can influence the likelihood of dealing with homelessness and addiction. As with housed individuals, certain demographics of homeless people suffer from addiction at a higher rate than others.

Veterans and First Responders

Veterans are nearly 50% more likely to become homeless than other Americans due to poverty, lack of support, affordable housing and healthcare, and addiction.

Substance use disorder, along with PTSD, are two of the five most common mental health disorders impacting homeless veterans today, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Without the proper support, they are much more likely to end up on the street, which can worsen their substance abuse and other mental health conditions.

Teenagers and Young Adults

According to a National Network for Youth study, close to 1.7 million youths experience at least one night of homelessness yearly.

While some children, teens, and young adults are homeless because the rest of their family is homeless, many more become homeless for other reasons. Kids become homeless mainly because of family problems, economic problems, and abductions.

With no money, no home, and no ability to get either, children, teens, and young adults find themselves in a unique position when homeless, which can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.

They are also far more likely to get involved with drugs and/or alcohol. According to the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina, teens and young adults between the ages of 12 and 21 are at a far greater risk of drug abuse than those who are not homeless.

Women

While men as a whole experience homelessness at a greater rate, women often suffer from homelessness for unique reasons. These unique circumstances result in a higher rate of drug and alcohol use among homeless women than men.

Many women find themselves homeless after experiencing domestic-related issues such as domestic violence, sexual assault, or other sexual trauma. The combination of the traumatic issue(s) and the severe mental illness that often accompanies trauma and homelessness can increase the risk of developing a substance abuse issue, particularly heroin and cocaine.

LGBTQ Community

Due to the many hardships those in the LGBTQ community face daily, they already suffer from high rates of drug and alcohol abuse.

Unfortunately, they also experience homelessness at a much higher rate as well. Members of the LGBTQ community, especially young adults, have a 120% higher risk of experiencing homelessness.

BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color)

The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that the nation’s overall rate of homelessness was approximately 18 out of every 10,000 people in 2020. When it comes to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), those rates are much higher.

Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders have the highest rate of homelessness, with 109 out of every 10,000 homeless.

Other minorities that have a higher-than-average homelessness rate include:

  • African Americans: 52 out of 10,000
  • Native Americans: 45 out of 10,000
  • Multi-racial: 39 out of 10,000
  • Hispanic: 22 out of 10,000

Mental Health and Homelessness

According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, nearly one-third of the homeless suffer from a serious mental illness. Often, these people were released from mental institutions and found themselves back on the streets shortly after being discharged.

The same study found that the following mental health conditions were the most common among the homeless community:

Addiction Treatment Options for the Homeless

Even if you are homeless, you deserve to get help for your substance abuse and mental health issues, just like everyone else.

The biggest issue many homeless people face regarding substance abuse treatment is not having the money or adequate insurance to cover the cost. However, there are options available.

Many communities offer state-funded treatment facilities for low-income and homeless people who require substance abuse and mental health treatment. Additionally, thanks to the passing of the Affordable Care Act, more rehab facilities are accepting Medicaid and Medicare.

If you or someone you know is currently experiencing homelessness and in need of a treatment program to address their alcohol or drug use, below are some organizations and initiatives designed to help those in need:

The SAMSHA website allows you to search for government-funded or free treatment centers offering detox, inpatient, and outpatient treatment.

Getting Help with Homelessness and Addiction

If you or a loved one is currently experiencing homelessness and suffering from substance abuse or addiction, some people can help you and provide you with the support you need.

Call the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-662-4357 or visit their online program locator to find treatment centers in your area.

Frequently Asked Questions About Addiction and Homelessness

What is homelessness?

Homelessness is a broad term to describe someone who doesn’t have stable housing. Homeless individuals may live in a shelter, transitional housing, or a car or bounce around from place to place, staying with people they know.

How prevalent is homelessness alongside addiction?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SMAHA) estimates that roughly 38% of the homeless population suffer from an alcohol dependency while 26% abused drugs. Additionally, they found that 68% of cities reported that substance abuse was the largest cause of homelessness among single adults.

What percentage of homelessness is caused by drugs?

In 2019, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimated that roughly 36% of all homeless people suffered from a substance use disorder, a mental health condition, or both.

Can homeless people get help for their addiction?

Yes, homeless people are entitled to addiction treatment just like housed individuals. Many communities offer state-funded and free substance abuse and mental health treatment clinics for low-income and homeless people in need.

Chris Carberg is the Founder of Addiction GuideReviewed by:Chris Carberg

AddictionHelp.com Founder & Mental Health Advocate

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Chris Carberg is a visionary digital entrepreneur, the founder of AddictionHelp.com, and a long-time recovering addict from prescription opioids, sedatives, and alcohol.  Over the past 15 years, Chris has worked as a tireless advocate for addicts and their loved ones while becoming a sought-after digital entrepreneur. Chris is a storyteller and aims to share his story with others in the hopes of helping them achieve their own recovery.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction GuideWritten by:

Content Manager

Jessica Miller is a USF graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in English. She has written professionally for over a decade, from HR scripts and employee training to business marketing and company branding. In addition to writing, Jessica spent time in the healthcare sector (HR) and as a high school teacher. She has personally experienced the pitfalls of addiction and is delighted to bring her knowledge and writing skills together to support our mission. Jessica lives in St. Petersburg, FL with her husband and two dogs.

13 references
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  2. LGBTQ youth disproportionately experience homelessness. Human Rights Campaign. (2017, November 15). Retrieved January 6, 2023, from https://www.hrc.org/news/new-report-on-youth-homeless-affirms-that-lgbtq-youth-disproportionately-ex

  3. B., R., Jose, & James. (2021, April 30). The risk of drug abuse among homeless and runaway youths. Absolute Advocacy. Retrieved January 6, 2023, from https://www.absoluteadvocacy.org/the-risk-of-drug-abuse-among-homeless-and-runaway-youths/

  4. Keuroghlian, A. S., Shtasel, D., & Bassuk, E. L. (2015, January 1). Out on the street: A public health and policy agenda for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth who are homeless. The American journal of orthopsychiatry. Retrieved January 6, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4098056/

  5. Substance abuse and homelessness – national coalition for the homeless. (2009, July). Retrieved January 6, 2023, from https://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/addiction.pdf

  6. The abyss: Addiction, homelessness, and trauma. National Health Care for the Homeless Council. (2022, May 29). Retrieved January 6, 2023, from https://nhchc.org/online-courses/trauma-informed-care-webinar-series/the-abyss-addiction-homelessness-and-trauma/

  7. Guardian News and Media. (2015, August 4). More homeless women use heroin and cocaine than men, study finds. The Guardian. Retrieved January 6, 2023, from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/aug/05/more-homeless-women-use-heroine-and-cocaine-than-men-study-finds

  8. Mondics, J. (n.d.). How many people with serious mental illness are homeless? Treatment Advocacy Center. Retrieved January 6, 2023, from https://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/fixing-the-system/features-and-news/2596-how-many-people-with-serious-mental-illness-are-homeless

  9. Veteran homelessness facts. Veteran Homelessness Facts | Green Doors. (n.d.). Retrieved January 6, 2023, from https://greendoors.org/facts/veteran-homelessness.php

  10. National Health Care for the Homeless Council Fact Sheet | August 2017. (2017, August). Retrieved January 6, 2023, from https://nhchc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/nhchc-opioid-fact-sheet-august-2017.pdf

  11. Opioid abuse and homelessness. National Alliance to End Homelessness. (2019, December 30). Retrieved January 6, 2023, from https://endhomelessness.org/resource/opioid-abuse-and-homelessness/

  12. State of Homelessness: 2022 edition. National Alliance to End Homelessness. (2022, September 27). Retrieved January 6, 2023, from https://endhomelessness.org/homelessness-in-america/homelessness-statistics/state-of-homelessness/

  13. Yamamoto, A., Needleman, J., Gelberg, L., Kominski, G., Shoptaw, S., & Tsugawa, Y. (2019, December). Association between homelessness and opioid overdose and opioid-related hospital admissions/emergency department visits. Social science & medicine (1982). Retrieved January 6, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7023863/

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