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The Link Between Drugs and Homelessness: How Treatment Can Alter a Person’s Life

In the U.S., homelessness is becoming an epidemic that may be tied to drug abuse. In 2020, there were more than 580,000 people experiencing homelessness. Chronic homelessness refers to those who have been continuously without housing for at least one year or have been without housing at least four times within the last three years. About 19% of the population without housing is chronically homeless.

Often, in the mind of society, homelessness is tied to drug use. While not all people without housing experience addiction, many do. There may be a link between homelessness and the drug epidemic. Understanding drugs can make the link clearer.

The Drug Epidemic

Since 1999, about 932,000 people have died due to a drug overdose. When it comes to overdose deaths, most occurred due to some form of opioid. About 37 million people in the U.S. use some form of illicit drug. Over the last several years, illicit drug use has increased.

Illicit drug use can lead to users developing an addiction that can completely change how they live their lives.


Opioids are one of the most commonly used drugs in the U.S. Opioids include heroin, fentanyl and pain relievers like codeine, hydrocodone and morphine. The human body contains opioid receptors on nerve cells. Opioids provide pain relief, but they also produce euphoria. Patients are more likely to miss them when taken over a long period. Regular use can cause dependence on the drug and dependence can lead to addiction.


Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant. Users experience increased energy, talkativeness and a decreased appetite. When it comes to meth, more of the drug ends up in the brain, making it a powerful and potent stimulant. The effects also last longer and damage the body’s central nervous system. Many people manufacture meth within home-based labs.


Cocaine is a stimulant drug derived from coca leaves. Coca leaves were used for thousands of years in South America. People would chew and ingest coca leaves for their stimulant properties. However, over 100 years ago, scientists found the purified chemical cocaine hydrochloride and isolated it from the plant. When you look at tonics and elixirs from the early 1900s, you’ll find that cocaine is an active ingredient. It treated various illnesses and could be used by surgeons to block pain.

Cocaine is an extremely addictive substance that alters your brain structure if you use it often. Cocaine has a high potential for abuse. The drug gives users a sense of euphoria. Over time, people require more of the drug to feel euphoric again.

Prescription Drugs

Prescription drugs can be as dangerous as any street drug. When prescribed medication, the patient must follow the rules set down by the doctor. Patients who misuse prescription medication could run the risk of developing an addiction. This is particularly true with opioid medication. For instance, a patient may be prescribed Vicodin for his or her pain but remains on the drug for too long. As the patient becomes more reliant on the drug, addiction develops. Addiction to prescription opioids can lead to illicit drug use, such as heroin.

Other commonly abused prescription drugs include stimulants and central nervous system depressants. Stimulants include medicine used to treat ADHD. Central nervous system depressants are sedatives, hypnotics and tranquilizers.

The Impact of Drug Use on Behavior

Drug use has a direct impact on the brain and your behavior. Think of your brain as an intricate computer with billions of neurons organized into networks and circuits. Drugs interfere with the brain’s natural processes. They stop the brain from processing signals correctly. The drugs activate neurons because their chemical structure is similar to natural neurotransmitters.

The substances produce intense pleasure, more intense than natural rewards. Drugs can make it difficult to feel pleasure from normal activities. Without them, a person may feel depressed, lifeless or unmotivated. Activities that they used to love seem dull and boring.

Impulsivity Control

Drugs have a direct impact on the prefrontal cortex. Your prefrontal cortex allows you to plan, solve problems and have self-control over your impulses. Your prefrontal cortex is the last area of your brain to fully mature. This is why teenagers tend to be more impulsive than adults. When you take substances, it can reduce your ability to make thoughtful decisions. Many people with addiction seek out drugs compulsively without recognizing the consequences of the behavior.

People can lose their homes and families because they didn’t think about the consequences of drug-seeking behavior. For example, you may spend your last dollar on drugs and forget to pay the rent or mortgage on your home.

Self-Care Ignorance

Drugs can damage a person’s motivation to care for themselves. Different substances make it difficult for the user to think about themselves. Instead, they enter a routine where finding the next high is the most important thing. They do not have the motivation to care about themselves. When you stop caring about yourself, you may let personal hygiene go, not show up for work or eat properly. Substance abuse disorder is powerful and can hijack a person’s ability to care for him or herself.

Delusional Thinking

Delusions are beliefs that are not founded in reality. People with substance abuse disorder may become paranoid or believe others are acting against them. It can force them to cut off ties with friends and family. The support system that could help save them from homelessness no longer exists. They may think those who want to help them don’t have their best interests. They can also look at society as a whole as the enemy. When everyone is out to hurt you, it can be a complex process to seek help and fight through delusional thinking.

The Link Between Homelessness and Drug Use

There is a stigma around those who experience homelessness and those who use illicit substances. Society stereotypes homeless people as drug users and those who use drugs as criminals. Both types of people may feel shunned by society.

There is a high percentage, however, of people without homes struggling with addiction. Understanding the link between the two could help with treatment.

Financial Struggles

Drugs are expensive. Unfortunately, lower-income people tend to have a higher risk of addiction than higher-income people. There is a stigma that surrounds people who struggle with finances along with those who struggle with addiction. People become criminalized and may give up. People experiencing homelessness also experience stigma. The stigma makes it difficult for them to find opportunities to work. Drugs become a form of escape and the cycle makes them financially unable to afford a stable life.

Criminal Records

A criminal record can make it difficult to rent or own property. It can also make it difficult for a person to find a job to pay for shelter. Many people who struggle with substance abuse disorder wind up with a criminal record. Part of the criminal record may come from seeking drugs themselves. Buying and selling illicit substances is illegal in the U.S.

In addition to a criminal record due to substance abuse, drugs affect a person’s sense of reasoning. For example, people will perform illegal acts to obtain drugs. For instance, if someone has no money but needs to curb withdrawal effects, he or she may steal to obtain the funds.

Homeless Experiences

To experience homelessness is devastating for most people. It impacts a person’s self-worth and puts the person at a high risk of becoming a victim to criminal activity. Having a secure and safe place to call home is a basic necessity. Without it, people have to go into survival mode. They have to focus on what it takes to survive a grim reality.

Some people experience homelessness before they experience substance abuse disorder. They may not have touched drugs before they became down on their luck. People experience homelessness for various reasons. A poor economy can force people onto the streets and out of their homes because their jobs do not pay enough to keep them housed. They may have a medical emergency or financial disaster that makes them incapable of paying their bills.

Others experience mental health disorders that make working or caring for themselves difficult. Without adequate mental health care, they end up experiencing homelessness instead.

Once a person experiences homelessness, drugs become easy to find. They are everywhere and may feel like a person’s only escape from a difficult life.

Punishment Over Treatment

Substance abuse disorder is a disease. The drugs hijack the brain and alter a person’s normal behavior. Often, people need help to be able to break the cycle. The law and society often seek to punish people, rather than focusing on treatment. People don’t recognize that they have a mental health disorder or that they require real medical attention, rather than punishment. Punishing people by making it more difficult to find a job, or a home or imprisoning them doesn’t help with the disorder. Instead, it can make it worse.

When a person receives treatment, he or she is given the care necessary to beat addiction. Treatment humanizes the person experiencing addiction. Punishment does not necessarily deter addiction. Treatment, however, can treat the source of the substance abuse disorder to help someone live a healthy life.

The Solution of Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation can save lives. It teaches you how to improve your abilities and learn skills to cope with daily life. In many cases, drug use can affect your mental and cognitive capacity. Experiencing homelessness can leave those suffering unsure how to live a stable, fulfilling life again. They may not know how to get back on their feet again. Rehabilitation teaches people how to live without substances and helps them find their footing again.

Rehabilitation Process

There are various steps to rehabilitation. To check into a facility, the staff will have multiple questions for you. During your intake, you need to specify how long you have struggled with addiction, where you live and what addiction has done to your life. You may also need to answer questions about your personal life, including family and children. While intake into a facility may feel like you have to answer many personal questions about your life, the point is to know where you are in your recovery to develop a custom plan that suits you.

Types of Care Facilities

The rehabilitation process can include in-patient or outpatient treatment. In-patient treatment varies between long and short-term. In long-term care, you receive 24-hour care in a residential setting that lasts between six and 12 months. In-patient treatment provides you with a stable environment to become clean, socialize with others on the same journey, and receive therapy and educational sessions on addiction and mental health.

In short-term residential treatment, you stay at the facility for about three to six weeks. Then, you attend outpatient therapy sessions and support groups. Once in outpatient treatment, you live at home and travel to the center throughout the week. The programs are similar to inpatient.

The Process of Detox

Most people with substance abuse disorder fear the detox the most. Withdrawal can be painful and when people quit substances on their own, they have a high chance of using again because withdrawal makes it nearly impossible to refrain from drug-seeking behavior. In a rehabilitation setting, you have no access to substances. You have nurses to care for you as you begin the process. Withdrawal from substances like heroin, alcohol and benzodiazepines can be uncomfortable, painful and leave patients physically ill. Fortunately, there are medications to help with the process.

Life in a Rehabilitation Facility

Part of recovery is learning to have a structured routine. A consistent schedule stops you from having to make too many decisions on your own. Most facilities require you to wake up at the same time each morning. You may receive medication to help manage your withdrawal symptoms or treat mental or physical health conditions. Most people attend some form of therapy following breakfast.

As the afternoon rolls around, you receive lunch and return to another therapy session. Most people have individual and group therapy throughout the day. You may also have time to choose other activities to spend your time doing. For instance, you could go to the gym or take a class.

In the evening, you may eat dinner and attend another session to discuss your day and reflect on your progress. Most centers will have a set time for you to go to sleep. Once you finish your free time, you sleep and prepare to start another day.

Employment Prospects

There is a link between addiction and unemployment. As the numbers of people struggling with drug use rose, so did the unemployment rates. Sometimes, people may turn to drugs to help cope with a poor economy and work stress. While some people can find a job quickly after losing a job, others may struggle to find something. Abrupt changes in a person’s life can lead to neurotic thinking and may cause addictive behavior.

Following recovery, you may find it difficult to return to the workplace. In some states, the government provides employers incentives to hire recovering addicts. You may also be able to receive skill training to help you reenter the job market. Going through treatment can teach you how to preserve and challenge yourself to find new employment.

Housing Opportunities

Substance abuse can cause you to lose your home. After experiencing homelessness, you may not know how to return to your feet again. Unless you put effort into recovery, you will probably not be able to apply for housing. Some states will help those who go through a recovery program. You may be able to enter a program to help you learn life skills or to help you find housing that suits your needs. Different programs can also help you find a job to afford a house yourself again. They can also teach you how to maintain your home.

After rehabilitation, most people have the ability to think again. They don’t need to act impulsively or throw away their opportunities to chase a high instead. You have a better chance of following a plan to obtain work and receive proper housing. When talking with landlords and property management companies, you come across as a more trustworthy individual when you aren’t in the middle of active addiction. One of the major aspects of recovery is to find a new place to live and integrate into society as a healthy, contributing member of society.

Start Your Life Again With Clean Recovery Centers

At Clean Recovery Centers, we will provide you with a stable environment as you work towards your recovery. Our treatment plan is for people at every stage of recovery. It’s important to follow your own path to recovery. No two people are the same and we can help you find the optimal path for your recovery. We treat your entire person, mental, social, spiritual and physical. Receiving treatment for your addiction can help you avoid homelessness or find a way to get back on your feet. To find out more about our programs, contact us today.


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