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Sadly, for all the wealth and power a nation like the United States holds, there are still a number of significant issues that plague its society. One of these many issues is the issue of co-existing disorders, specifically the link between homelessness, mental health disorders, and addiction. For many Americans, these three issues overlap, making their lives much more difficult than needed. However, in order to solve these issues and address the needs of hundreds of thousands of Americans, one must first understand how homelessness and addiction intertwine and affect each other.

Understanding Homelessness

In general, homelessness is misunderstood by most Americans. Oftentimes, homelessness is considered a permanent state of being. However, in most cases, a person is only homeless for a temporary amount of time. This misconception of what homelessness is largely comes from the label and conception of homelessness that exists in the United States. 

For many Americans, homeless individuals are an inevitable, unchanging part of their society. To them, people who are homeless are homeless due to their own poor decision-making. Yet, this is far from true. For many, homelessness is the result of temporary situations or circumstances beyond their control. For example, a person who breaks up with their partner and must temporarily live with a friend or family member is technically homeless. However, this individual would not fall under American society’s typical conception of homelessness. 

Overall, the term homeless can apply to a number of different populations in different situations. This is largely because homelessness is a complex issue that can become a reality for an individual, couple, or family due to a variety of issues. In some cases, the underlying issues are tied to one’s mental health, addiction, or both. However, this is not always the case. For many, issues with mental health and addiction begin after becoming homeless – not before.     

Homelessness and Mental Health 

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, around 45% of people who were homeless in 2015 were living with some type of mental health issue, and 25% of people who were homeless were living with serious mental health issues. These numbers are undoubtedly alarming but also unsurprising. 

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For decades, research has shown that homeless individuals are disproportionately affected by mental health issues. Researchers have speculated and attributed this phenomenon to a number of causes. However, in general, the prevalence of mental health problems among homeless individuals is largely because of the cyclical nature of poor mental health and one’s living conditions.

No matter how the cycle begins, the combination of homelessness and poor mental health creates a cycle where a person is continuously fighting for physical and mental wellness. Sadly, either issue makes the other issue more difficult to manage and overcome. For example, poor mental health, like depression, makes it harder for a person to find a solution to their homelessness. At the same time, homelessness makes it harder for a person to maintain positive mental and emotional health. These co-existing disorders amplify each other and create conditions that can be extremely difficult to overcome.        

Homelessness, Mental Health, and Addiction

Addiction adds another, harmful layer to the cycle of homelessness and mental health problems. In many ways, the addition of addiction makes the cycle more dangerous, but it also makes it more difficult to break out of. 

Unlike homelessness, for most people, addiction is a lifelong disorder. Most individuals who develop an addiction to heroin, methamphetamine, alcohol, or another substance will have to work every day to obtain and maintain their sobriety. The reason for this is due to the mental aspect of addiction.

Addiction changes structures in the brain. Most notably, addiction makes a person more likely to engage in addictive behavior – even after they become sober. This means a person who is living with an addiction – even while sober – is at a greater risk of engaging in dangerous, often unhealthy behaviors that provide immediate and repeatable pleasure.   

To maintain one’s sobriety and avoid giving into addictive behaviors, a person with an addiction must do their best to maintain positive mental health. If their mental health becomes negatively affected by issues like anxiety or depression, it can make them more likely to engage in addictive behavior and dangerous substances. Oftentimes, becoming homeless can create conditions that contribute to poor mental health, which can then contribute to a person relapsing and engaging in addictive behavior. 

However, homelessness is not always the cause of poor mental health and addiction. The cycle can occur in order, beginning with addiction or mental health. In any order, the factors in this cycle worsen and perpetuate each other, making these co-existing disorders difficult to live with and overcome.  

How to Treat Homeless People with Addictions 

Homelessness, poor mental health, and addiction are often intertwined. Because of this, it is necessary for each factor to be treated and not just one. Only treating an individual’s addiction or changing their living situation will not treat the entirety of the problem.  

The best ways to treat individuals affected by homelessness, mental health issues, and addiction are through the following: 

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  • Housing access
  • Well-trained staffs (at rehabilitation facilities and shelters)
  • Client-centered services (tailoring treatment to an individual’s needs) 
  • Integrated services (treating each issue, not just one)
  • Comprehensive services (treating a person’s every need, not just basic needs)

People who are homeless are just like people with homes. They have complex needs and desires for their physical and mental health. They deserve to be given the best possible care just like any other person. 

Searching for Treatment for Co-existing Disorders?  

If you or a loved one is living with co-existing disorders, such as heroin addiction and an anxiety disorder, help is available in your area! At Knoxville Recovery Center, our team of caring addiction specialists offer a number of effective therapies and treatment programs designed to address an individual’s every need. In doing so, these individuals are likely to achieve healthier lifestyles and lasting sobriety. Contact us today for more information!   

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