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How Does Poverty Impact Substance Abuse?

Poverty, it affects millions of people worldwide causing disarray and an number of inequalities financially, but what about socially, economically, and more importantly—with health and the decision to use drugs? Does poverty increase substance abuse? Does poverty cause substance abuse? Can someone in poverty who is abusing substances get help?

These are all viable questions—and the answers in some cases are grimly defined. If you or someone you love is addicted to drugs or alcohol, don’t give up hope—call our helpline toll-free at 800-683-3270 for treatment.

What is Poverty?

The term poverty is defined as a state in which there is a lack of material resources—for most, poverty means a lack of money which leads to a lack of housing, food, clothing or other necessities. Someone who is suffering from poverty may live in a small, broken home or have no home at all. They may live with people in large groups or they may have inadequate dwellings.

Poverty goes beyond housing though—people who live in poverty may not have enough money to afford a car or transportation to work or school. Children living in poverty may not be able to attend school or receive proper health care. Severe cases of poverty may mean that the individual or individuals living in the situation don’t have enough to eat or drink.

But what about substance abuse and addiction? How does poverty impact these conditions?

Social Problems

Poverty Impact Substance Abuse

Many people who suffer from a mental illness also abuse substances and live in poverty.

Studies have found that people who live in poverty often have low hope, feel inadequate, suffer from depression and anxiety, and are unstable. The following social inadequacies are identified in many individuals living in poverty:

  • Low education
  • Low level job skills
  • Low aspirations
  • Significant school dropout rates
  • High unemployment levels
  • High underemployment levels
  • Poor health
  • Poor mental health

All of these characteristics can cause problems in life, but they do not define the intelligence of the individual, nor do they define the way that an individual will behave—at least not necessarily. The compassion, attitudes and behaviors of an individual are defined by their underlying human state and have nothing to do with how they live, how much money they have or what material items belong (or don’t belong) to them.

However the question of substance abuse, and whether poverty increases substance abuse is questionable, here’s why:

People who live in poverty often must find “alternative” methods of making money. And often times this means dealing drugs—when lack of education prevents employment, a poverty stricken individual may take action to make ends meet, and this may mean selling drugs. Unfortunately, this creates a backdrop of problems for other poverty stricken individuals—why? Because now poverty stricken adults are selling drugs to make ends meet and poverty stricken children are growing up watching these things occur.

Does this behavior FORCE the child to grow up and become an adult addict? No—but does it increase the chance that the child will use drugs—quite possibly so. The fact is, children who grow up around drugs are more likely to abuse drugs than those who have no clue what drugs are—is a rich child who doesn’t know about drugs therefore immune to addiction—absolutely not. But the risk is definitely greater for the child who lives around substance abuse all of his or her life.

Living poor wraps the addict into a lifestyle of poorness. This can include things like breaking the law, incarceration, poor health and living on the streets. Do these factors contribute to substance abuse—absolutely they do. People who live on the streets are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol to “get away” or “forget” their situation, even if only for a brief period of time.

Does this mean that all people who live on the streets are addicts—absolutely not. Reporting that all people who are homeless, poor, or otherwise poverty stricken are prone to substance abuse would be completely biased and untrue. But failure to report that certain lifestyles can contribute to other leading causes of substance abuse such as anxiety or depression or other mental illness would also be wrong.

The fact is, people who suffer from mental illness are at least 50 times more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol than those who do not suffer from mental illness. It’s proven that at least 50% of those who have mental illness also suffer from substance abuse. Mental illness, be it depression or anxiety, or be it schizophrenia or another serious condition, leads to substance abuse. And it’s rather safe to say that poor living conditions can easily lead to some types of mental illness such as anxiety or depression.

Further, for mental illness that are NOT caused by inadequate living situations, illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or mania, left untreated, there is a risk that the sufferer will find his or her own way of medicating and “coping” with the problem. For an individual who has no money for health care, the method of “coping” could well become substance abuse.

How Treatment Reduces the Financial Impact of Substance Abuse

Lack of Access to Treatment

Does poverty cause substance abuse or does substance abuse cause poverty? The answer to that question is both. Poverty can lead to substance abuse (not guaranteed, but it can), and substance abuse can lead to poverty (again, not guaranteed but it can). Why? Because without money, people will go through great lengths to cope and with money, people will go through great lengths to cope.

Once substance abuse becomes evident, treatment is generally required to facilitate healing and recovery. Poverty stricken individuals may not have access to the necessary addiction treatment that will lead to healing and recovery.

Lack of money, lack of health insurance, or a pure lack of education about the treatment options that are available can lead to a reduced likelihood that an individual will get the help that he or she needs when addiction has set in. Even public health services that may be available to assist a poverty stricken addict may be overlooked due merely to a lack of knowledge of the programs or a lack of hope.

Free Programs Lack Quality

People without money often resort to free substance abuse treatment program IF they choose treatment at all. The problem with free or low cost substance abuse treatment options is that they don’t always provide adequate care for those in need. Those that can provide care may not have availability to help the addict when he or she decides to seek treatment—and, according to NIDA, treatment must be readily available when an addict is ready.

Finding help becomes a vicious cycle for an already struggling individual and the easier, often chosen option becomes remaining addicted.  This isn’t because the individual wants to suffer from substance abuse forever—but that they’ve lost hope and really just don’t know where to turn.

If you or someone you love is addicted to drugs or alcohol, if you’re poverty stricken or know someone who is, consider calling 800-683-3270 for help. Health insurance and other options are available now to aid in the payment of treatment for addiction. Poverty, inequalities or inadequacies should not prevent anyone from getting the help that they need.

Don’t delay, call our helpline toll-free for assistance and to take the first steps toward achieving your recovery gaols.

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