Addiction treatment for the homeless

Homelessness and substance abuse are often linked. So what kinds of addiction treatment options are available for homeless people? We review here.

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We are still not certain whether substance abuse causes homelessness or homelessness causes substance abuse. However, it is clear that homeless individuals are one demographic that is more likely to need addiction treatment.

What treatment options are available to the homeless? And where can a homeless person get help for addiction?  We review here.  Then, we invite your questions about addiction treatment for the homeless at the end.

The homeless and addiction treatment

Although it’s difficult to accurately pinpoint the number of homeless individuals who abuse drugs or alcohol with any certainly, recent studies have estimated the nearly half of all homeless individuals are substance abusers. This demographic has a much higher rate of substance abuse than the rest of the general population.  Homeless men and women are also much more likely to suffer from mental health disorders such as depression, mood disorders, and schizophrenia.

Options for the homeless and addiction treatment vary, but treatment for this demographic should include the following services.

  1. Educational and vocational services help homeless individuals become more independent and self-sufficient after treatment.
  2. Health services, such as routine checkups and medical services.
  3. Mental health services, including addiction treatment as well as treatment for other mental health problems.
  4. Residential services and beds, giving homeless individuals a safe place to live during treatment.

Homeless drug addiction treatment

Despite the extra help that homeless individuals need during addiction treatment, the basics of homeless drug addiction treatment are generally the same as other types of treatment. For instance, homeless individuals are usually assessed before they go through detox and complete an addiction treatment program. Aftercare is another very important part of homeless drug addiction treatment.  The steps in providing addiction treatment for the homeless are:

1. Assessment is the first step in homeless drug addiction treatment. This first step allows addiction treatment specialists to determine the extent of a homeless individual’s addiction treatment. The initial assessment is also the time when an addiction treatment care plan is created, which outlines the type and duration of treatment and services needed.

2. Detox is a period of time in which a homeless person’s body attempts to get rid of any remaining substances. This usually results in uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Homeless individuals should typically go through detox in a dedicated detox facility under medical supervision. Not only does this reduce the risk of relapse, but it also allows doctors to supervise individuals during this time to help ensure their comfort and safety.

3. Treatment for drug addiction is multi-faceted and requires a great deal of time and hard work. Homeless drug addiction treatment often includes individual behavior therapy and group therapy. Some homeless drug addiction treatment programs may include the use of medications to help alleviate some of the cravings for drugs.

4. Social services are another important aspect of homeless drug addiction treatment. Homeless individuals in addiction treatment will often have access to educational, vocational, financial, and residential social services. These services help prepare homeless individuals to become self-sufficient and remain drug-free.

5. Aftercare is the last step in homeless drug addiction treatment. Aftercare services can include weekly outpatient counseling sessions, group therapy sessions, and a stay in a transitional living facility. Homeless individuals with underlying mental health problems should also continue seeing a mental health specialist and taking any prescribed medication. Eventually, with their drug abuse behind them, many homeless individuals are able to move on and live productive lives.

Homeless addiction treatment barriers

Not surprisingly, homeless individuals face a number of barriers to addiction treatment. Some of the more common homeless addiction treatment barriers are listed below.

  • Denial
  • Fear or distrust of authorities
  • Financial difficulties
  • Lack of insurance
  • Unsure of where to turn to

Addicted Homeless

Even addicted homeless individuals have places and people to turn to when they need substance abuse treatment. One of the first places that homeless individuals can turn to are local homeless shelters. Employees and volunteers in these shelters will often be able to point them in the right direction. Most homeless shelters and have pamphlets and other information available for addicted homeless individuals who are in need of addiction treatment.

Hospitals and community clinics are also good places for homeless individuals to turn to when they are looking for addiction treatment. Not only can these facilities point homeless individuals in the right direction, but they may also be able to help them figure out how to cover the cost of treatment as well.

Homeless addiction questions

If you or a loved one have any questions regarding homelessness and addiction or addiction treatment, feel free to leave a comment below. We try to address all questions and concerns in a timely manner, and we look forward to helping you and your loved one through this difficult time.

Reference Sources: SAMHSA: Substance Abuse Treatment: What Works For Homeless People?
NIH: DrugFacts: Nationwide Trends
MUblog Marymount: Homelessness and Substance Abuse: Which Comes First?
Treatment Solutions: Homelessness and Substance Abuse
SAMHSA: Current Statistics on the Prevalence and Characteristics of People Experiencing Homelessness in the United States
National Coalition for the Homeless: Substance Abuse and Homelessness
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. Hi, I was incarcerated for almost 11 years flat in federal high security prison. Sadly I did not get rehabilitated. I got worse. I have been high every day for the last three yrs. I’ve lost my family. Im tired. Im sitting on the beach homeless. Please help?

  2. A family member is homeless , no physical address cannot get help, sofa surf surfs tried to get on methodone no insurance no address, I paid but living on fixed income not much help. Can’t live with me senior housing. It’s a catch 24. round and round we go.

  3. I’ve had problems with drugs all my life… I was born a premie by 1 and half months with symptoms due to my fraternal mother banging herion while pregnant with me.. My dad devorsed her shortly after i turned just one and she walked out of my life … I was 15 years old when i found out the truth about the story of my real mom.. My dad remarried when i was a year and half old to a woman that also had two daughters that were 4 and 6 years older than me .. Growing up I never had a clue about the truth until I was 15 … My dad set out to find her and found her at a mental institution her in Columbus Ga .. He went there and spoke to her and asked if she would like to meet her son, me! Long story short she died very shortly after that i beleive they say by a overdose … I was just 15 and thinking i was going to meet the woman that gave birth to me but i never had a chance. Growing up where i did was not the best of situations… Im from a rough drug & crime riddled neighborhood here in Columbus ga and i say that to say this ….. Im now 33 years old and I’ve come to compleatly realize that i need help .. I’ve always been sturbom and hardheased to say the least and I was one who always thought that i could do everything in life by myself but i was so wrong and i know now threw some of the hardest & loneliest days and nights weeks months & years that lived what it was that missing … That was self-believe. Looking back on my life I’ve lived so far i never beleived in myself . I’m not going to just throw in the towel and except this to be how i live the rest of my life … I’m asking for help .. My name is Kenneth I go by Kenny I’m 33 years old I’m from and still live in Columbus Ga please if anyone who might see this will you if possible help me with the information i need to start a new life .. I need help

  4. Hello,

    My b/f is a crack addict who is now homeless after relapsing multiple times. He recently got out of treatment a few weeks ago and relapsed the day he was released. Since then he relapsed at least four or five times feeling very depressed and suicidal. I had to kick him out due to lack of trust and worry I was enabling him too much. He lacks motivation to get a job. He needs to be in a sober house with extensive mental health treatment. Are there any places in the Seattle area that offer these services free for those with zero income, insurance, and benefits? I know deep down he really wants to get through this, but he needs to be in a controlled environment. Right now he can’t be trusted with any money. Any help would be great thanks.

    1. Hi Lee. Call the helpline you see on the website to get in touch with a trusted treatment consultant.

  5. I am 33 yrs old Mexican American female. I have been homless off and on for the past 4 years. I have a history of drug abuse and am tried of living on the street with no hope. I am trying to find a program to get my life back in order. I currently am living in the Los Angeles area.

  6. Bottom line is my life has become so unmanageable. I have lost everyone and everything. I’m homeless and I’m hooked on iv opiates and crack. It has totally consumed my life. I have not only hurt my self mentally physically but I have hurt the ones who loved me most. I’m so ashamed of who and what I have become. I started using in 2007 when my brother does and I just been spiralling down Bill since then. I lost my three children my mom my sister behind my stupid selfish actions. My dad died 8 months ago from a heart attack. And I know that was my fault because all I did was stress him out and make his health worse. I’m so ashamed of that. I am a waste of space. And I often wonder why am I even still alive. I don’t know what else to do. But I will say this much deep inside my heart I still feel I’m suppose to keep on fighting for my life back. I pray everyday that I can get off this demon that holds me back. I would love to be the old me and be back with my family. My only income is my social security check I get every month. Its $733.00 . and the rest of money I get I prostitute for. What a life huh? I’m tired and I know if I don’t get help now I’m going to die. So if any out there can hear my crys for help I will forever be greatful. thank you and have a blessed day

  7. My son is an addict and now he is homeless, its started with pills, then heroin now its meth. He is 32, I let him stay with me off and on, shower here and get a hot meal. but his stays turned longer and he was such a mess maker and disrespectful to me, it wasn’t him it was the addict. That’s when I realized the extent of his addiction. I located some options for him to get recovery and transition to a clean and sober home. He refused and lives in denial right now. I had to ask him to leave because I realized how much I was actually enabling him to stay addicted. I don’t know where he is or if he is going to get help. My heart is broken at the potential he is throwing away.

  8. Thank you for this article.

    I have a question about a loved one who went through treatment in another state (his drug of choice was Heroin and Cocaine, and he has been clean for just under a year) and recently decided to move back to Orange County, CA. A friend offered for him to stay at her house until he can get on his feet. Immediately upon moving back he began smoking Marijuana, he ran out of his psych meds (he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, PTSD, Anxiety disorder, and clinical depression), he has not attempted to find stable work (just random day jobs here and there to pay for marijuana). The friend decided him living there was not working out, and kicked him out, I offered to help him pay for a sober living home, but he refuses, he says it would be regressing and insists that I help him pay for his own apartment. I am unwilling to do this. He is the father of my children and I don’t want him on the streets, I am afraid that he will start using heroin and cocaine again. The last time I cut him off from our children he was very heavy into his heroin addiction and attempted suicide and had to be revived. I am afraid that if I do not help him even though it is not a sober living that he might feel rejected again and attempt suicide. His mental illness is not under control so he gets delusions that everyone is out to get him. Please help me figure out what to do in this situation. Does he need to do the whole treatment again because he has started self medicating with marijuana? Thank you for any advice.

    1. Hi Kalee. This is truly a difficult situation. But, he needs a solid addiction and mental health treatment to be able to live a normal life. Marijuana use can actually worsen a lot of psychological conditions, especially schizophrenia. Honestly, I don’t understand how a sober living environment can be regressing. He needs dual diagnosis treatment, and a structured place to live. You can talk with a addiction psychologist or counselor from the area to get a referral for a treatment place. He may need to be taken in for rehab even if he refuses to admit it.

  9. I have a brother that is an addict and homeless we just lost both our grandmother’s and the biggest hit was our mother that died on December 2nd he is going to the methadone clinic but needs shelter and help with how to live life on his own I know that he could do it but just needs some help

  10. Thank you for this article. I live in Washington state and have recently met a man living on the streets who I believe is addicted to crack. Once, when leaving food for him, he was zoned out and had a pipe in his hand to the point he didn’t know I was there. A couple other times, he would lounge on his bed, facing down, in a way that appeared he was trying to hold himself up- what appeared to be a ‘Rush’. I want to help him help himself. He is in his 20s. What would you recommend I do and don’t do? Thank you truly. Regards, Ally

    1. Hi, Ally. I’d suggest you to call the help-line displayed on the site to get in touch with our trusted treatment providers.

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