The Relationship Between Poverty and Addiction

Posted by | Alcohol and Drug Use | September 17, 2015

Many studies point to the relationship between living at poverty levels and substance abuse. When men and women experience significant stress in life, such as poverty and/or social marginalization, they are at risk for developing addiction, as well as mental illness. Those who are in these situations tend to have higher levels of stress as well as a reduced ability to access the mental health services they need.

Poverty is defined as not having sufficient resources to live at a living standard that is considered appropriate or safe in society. For instance, someone who is living in poverty might have to live in a cramped setting or he or she might be living on the streets. Someone in poverty may not have the finances to afford food, clothing, shelter, transportation, or other items that would help to meet their basic needs, including not having access to health care. When someone cannot meet their basic needs, he or she is more at risk for addiction and other forms of illness.

In fact, even if someone were to get sober while still living in poverty, it will likely be difficult to maintain sobriety. If a person were without enough money to eat or pay bills, it will like be difficult to tend to the emotional or psychological healing that addiction requires. Instead, one’s basic needs have to be met first. This is explained by the theory known as the Hierarchy of Needs, developed by sociologist Abraham Maslow. He explained that a person needs to get their most basic needs met first before going on to meeting other emotional, psychological, and even spiritual needs. For example, you need to be sure you have eaten before you can begin to process the sadness you feel about your past. Certainly, addiction treatment will include much attention to healing emotional and psychological needs. However, a person’s safety, physical well being, nourishment and shelter need to be addressed first.

There’s no doubt that the stress and trauma of living at levels of poverty, such as being homeless, can prompt cravings to drink or use drugs. Drinking alcohol or taking drugs are often coping tools for people who are faced with intense feelings and/or dire life circumstances. Furthermore, alcohol and drugs are a means to escape the horrors of one ‘s life. Escaping into the high of cocaine or heroin can be a nice reprieve for someone who does not know where there next meal might come from.  In fact, according to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there are factors that can contribute to the experience of an addiction, and one of them is poverty.

Lastly, one of the great dangers for someone living at poverty levels is that he or she is likely not going to have the resources to attend addiction treatment. For those who have the money or health insurance, there are many treatment options to choose from. However, having neither financial resources nor health insurance leaves someone very few options. Public services that cater to the homeless are often at capacity and rarely have room for someone to be admitted right away.

However, there are services that can help the homeless at least get off the streets. And, at the very least, provide them with food, shelter, and water. Once someone is in the care of public services, it’s possible that in time, he or she might be able to find an opening at an addiction treatment center that serves low-income men and women.

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