Drug and alcohol addiction is both a cause and a consequence of the often vicious and complex cycle of poverty, homelessness, and poor mental health.

Individuals who struggle with addiction may find it difficult to maintain stable employment and housing due to the terrible effects substances can have on their overall health, wellbeing, and personal life. As addiction can also damage relationships between family and friends, many people can also be left vulnerable and without a proper support network to fall back on if the worst were to happen – e.g., losing their job, house, or even a loved one. Similarly, the traumatic experience of homelessness and poverty can increase the risk of a person turning to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with their situation.

This relationship is strongly backed up by the statistics. Two-thirds of homeless people cite drugs or alcohol as a reason for first becoming homeless, whilst those who use drugs are 7 times more likely to be homeless themselves (Crisis Report 2017). In Scotland, 19% of 435,853 people assessed as homeless between 2001 and 2016 had evidence of substance abuse (Scottish Government 2018). In 2021, 127 people experiencing homelessness In Scotland lost their lives due to drug overdoses: accounting for the majority cause of all homelessness deaths nationwide (NRS 2022). People living in the most deprived areas were also found to be 15.3 times more likely to die from drugs and 4 times more likely to die from alcohol-related complications when compared with more affluent counterparts (Scottish Government 2018).

Substance abuse can alter brain chemistry and increase the risk of developing mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia (National Institute on Drug Abuse 2021). Addiction can also erode self-esteem and exacerbate feelings of guilt and shame, especially if the individual faces stigma in their local community. Reversing the causality, mental health issues can also increase the risk of relapsing via the use of drugs and alcohol as a form of self-medication.

In Scotland, adults who use substances report lower mental wellbeing scores relative to adults who do not, and it is estimated that problematic substance use was a factor in 48-56% of suicides between 2008 and 2018 (Scottish Government 2022). Individuals with a past hospital admission for a mental health disorder also had a higher mortality rate for drug-related deaths: being 17.1 per 1,000 person years relative to an overall mortality rate of 12.91 per 1,000 person years (McAuley et al. 2022). In England, nearly two-thirds (63%) of people starting substance abuse disorder treatment also said they were struggling with another mental health need (Office for Health Improvement and Disparities 2021).

If you’ve been impacted by the topics discussed in this blog, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re here to help you on your path to recovery and healing.

Oct 18, 2023