Some like to say that characterizing homeless people as addicts serves no purpose but continuing to keep the homeless down as a marginalized class. But the fact remains that there is a large overlap between drug abusers and the homeless, with some numbers suggesting as many as 80 percent of homeless people are also drug abusers. With this degree of prevalence, it is crucial that we learn more about homeless people on drugs.
Profile of a Homeless Addict?
Unfortunately, there really is no one-size-fits-all demographic into which the "standard" homeless addict fits. Just as there are different types of drugs, which appeal to different types of people, so too are there many different homeless individuals, of a variety of ages, races, and occupation, who may be more or less prone to addiction based on prior personal or family history. It is therefore difficult to suggest a single treatment protocol for all homeless drug users.
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In addition to the hurdles faced by any addicted person on the road to recovery, homeless persons who are also addicts have some unique challenges holding them back which must be addressed alongside the dependence issues if recovery is to be successfully achieved. Lack of access to medical care may lead a person to self-medicate, and in the absence of counseling, homeless persons are more likely to relapse. Unemployment among the homeless may also be responsible for the higher percentage of drug users, as the stresses of that condition can lead to a host of self-destructive behaviors.
Addiction and Crime
As more and more inmates crowd our prisons, the relationship between drug use, homelessness, and crime rates becomes ever more relevant. It has been shown that although drug addiction treatment plans may have a relatively high initial startup cost, they are better for the local and national economy in the long run. The current standard emphasizes incarceration over rehabilitation, but by turning our attention to the healing process, we may find both homelessness and drug addiction numbers dropping rapidly.
If recent research has taught us anything, it is that programs for either drug addiction or homelessness are less helpful on their own than they are together. Every large community should have comprehensive resources to help teach addicts how to improve their lives in areas like personal finance and relationship building, while simultaneously addressing the issue of homelessness. Because the two conditions reinforce one another, only by tackling them together can you hope to improve patient outcomes.
When describing the overlapping states of homelessness and drug addiction, we have to walk a fine line. On the one hand, it is unnecessarily polite to assume that no homeless persons have co-occurring substance abuse problems, but on the other, we don't want to impose a treatment regimen upon homeless persons just because it worked for a different group; the homeless have other issues that need to be treated alongside their addiction. Instead of pigeon-holing people into a "homeless addict" category, then, we would do well to ask how an intervention program should be modified for each participant. The more we know about homeless people on drugs, the more we can write treatment plans to their specific needs. As increased levels of customization have been linked to improved outcomes, the excuses for a cookie-cutter approach to community healthcare are flimsy, at best.