Elderly Substance Abuse Leads to Poverty & Homelessness

The following is a guest post by Amber Paley, blogger and freelance writer, whose primary focus is researching and writing on issues that affect the elderly. Amber writes for nursinghomeabuse.net and can be reached at amber@nursinghomeabuse.net.

Poverty and Homelessness Among the Elderly
The way in which the government understands the problem of homelessness in the U.S. is through single night counts.  In a 2008 single night count, there were over 660 thousand homeless people in the United States; over 168,000 of those are believed to be elderly.  However, poverty is a more prevalent problem among the elderly than homelessness; this is understandable seeing as it is a direct cause of homelessness.  In 2008, there were about 3.7 million elderly people living below the established poverty line in the United States; this translates to about 22 elderly people living in poverty for every one elderly homeless person.

The Causes of Homelessness and Poverty
There are several reasons that the elderly are living in poverty or are homeless.  Some of the main causes are:

  • Insufficient housing accommodations. The Baby Boomers’ elderly population is growing faster than facilities can accommodate it and Social Security does not provide enough benefits to cover housing costs.  As a result, there are wait lists for affordable nursing/elderly facilities and housing.
  • Money problems.  High medical bills/expensive health problems, poor management of finances pre and/or post-retirement, and lack of income after retirement are often causes of poverty; and poverty is a cause of homelessness.
  • Substance abuse.

Substance Abuse’s Affect on Homelessness
The United States Conference of Mayors conducted a survey of 25 U.S. cities in order to understand the top three reasons that homelessness occurs; 68 percent of the surveyed cities cited substance abuse as the number one cause for their cities’ homelessness population while 80 percent total put substance abuse in the top 3 causes.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2003, 38 percent of homeless people abused alcohol while 26 percent abused other drugs.

Homelessness Drug Dependence Prevalence

2003 Prevalence

Application to 2008 Homeless Statistics

Alcohol Dependence

38%

63,840

Drug Abuse

26%

43,680

U.S. Conference of Mayors: Substance Abuse #1 Cause of Homelessness

68%

114,240

The National Coalition for the Homeless states the following:

According to Didenko and Pankratz (2007), two-thirds of homeless people report that drugs and/or alcohol were a major reason for their becoming homeless….  Substance abuse is often a cause of homelessness.  Addictive disorders disrupt relationships with family and friends and often cause people to lose their jobs.  For people who are already struggling to pay their bills, the onset or exacerbation of an addiction may cause them to lose their housing….  Alcohol abuse is more common in older generations, while drug abuse is more common in homeless youth and young adults (Didenko and Pankratz, 2007).  Substance abuse is much more common among homeless people than in the general population.  According to the 2006 National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 15% of people above the age of 12 reported using drugs within the past year and only 8% reported using drugs within the past month.

The Future of the Problem
The National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) recently conducted research that predicted that the elderly homeless population will increase 33 percent by 2020 and double by 2050 if the government continues its current housing and service programs in the future.

Homelessness Drug Dependence Prevalence (2020)

2003 Prevalence

Application to 2020 Homeless Statistics

Alcohol Dependence

38%

84,907

Drug Abuse

26%

58,094

U.S. Conference of Mayors: Substance Abuse #1 Cause of Homelessness

68%

151,939

Homelessness Drug Dependence Prevalence (2050)

2003 Prevalence

Application to 2050 Homeless Statistics

Alcohol Dependence

38%

127,680

Drug Abuse

26%

87,360

U.S. Conference of Mayors: Substance Abuse #1 Cause of Homelessness

68%

228,480

Thus, if the government and our society do not address elderly substance abuse and incorporate programs to help elderly citizens address and treat it, the problem of homelessness due to elderly substance will be exacerbated.


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Lisa Frederiksen

Lisa Frederiksen

Author | Speaker | Consultant | Founder at BreakingTheCycles.com
Lisa is the author of hundreds of articles and 11 books, including "If You Loved Me, You'd Stop!," "Addiction Recovery: What Helps, What Doesn't," and "Secondhand Drinking: the Phenomenon That Affects Millions." She is a national keynote speaker with over 25 years speaking experience, consultant, and founder of BreakingTheCycles.com. She has spent more than 14 years studying 21st century brain research in order to write, speak, and consult on substance use disorders prevention, intervention and treatment; mental disorders; addiction (aka substance use disorders) as a brain disease; adolescent addiction treatment vs adult addiction treatment; effective treatment for co-occurring disorders (having both a substance use and mental disorder); secondhand drinking | drugging; help for the family; and related subjects. In 2015, she founded SHD Prevention, providing training and consulting to companies, public agencies, unions, nonprofits and other entities to address the workplace impacts of employee secondhand drinking and alcohol misuse.

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