Homelessness and Alcoholism

Homelessness and alcoholism

From an assessment on available literature, the homeless can be described as individuals in society with no homes or individuals who lack a permanent dwelling place. They live in unsteady housing (Glasser, 1994). The situation is mainly brought about because the concerned persons cannot afford to pay for the same. Because of their condition, the homeless go through many problems in their daily lives. Such problems include mental illnesses, victimization especially when on the streets, unemployment, drug use and substance abuse. They have many deficiencies, impairments and are of poor health (Burt, 1993). They are also highly prone to many disease and conditions such as, schizophrenia, stress and trauma. They are psychologically and physically vulnerable. Is there any correlation between homelessness and alcoholism? Does homelessness cause alcoholism?

Alcoholism on the other hand is defined as the situation that arises because of constant consumption of alcohol. This results to a condition in which the individual experiences a compulsion to consume alcohol. The individual develops a craving for and dependence on alcohol. The consequence of alcoholism is that the person loses the ability to control and regulate the urge for alcohol. Any attempts to stop taking or consuming alcohol leads to withdrawal symptoms. Alcoholism can also refer to continuities drinking habits that lead to health, social and economic problems (Allen, 2003). Alcoholism is caused by a number of factors. However, can it result from an individual being homeless? Is alcoholism a cause for homelessness?

Unfortunately, available literature concerning the issue of homelessness and alcoholism was not comprehensive. Therefore, research was necessary to help establish the relationship between homelessness and alcoholism. Most of the available literature mainly concentrated on prevalence of alcohol use among the homeless.  The literature did not give sufficient details on the causes, reasons for and effects of alcoholism on the homeless. The research would help establish the relationship that existed between homelessness and alcoholism. The research would also help establish the reasons for the high prevalence of alcoholism among the homeless.

To help achieve the above objective, a number of research questions were formulated (Fitzpatrick, 1998). The questions when fully answered would help make develop an effective relationship between the two. The first research question was; how and why does homelessness trigger alcoholism? The second question was how the homeless were able to get the alcohol given their financial position. The third research question was; what are the social, economic and financial effects of alcoholism on both the homeless and the society?  The last research question was; what is the best way to reduce alcohol use by the homelessness.

To ensure that the data collected was appropriate, both quantitative and qualitative data was collected (Timmer, Eitzen & Talley, 1994). Data for the research was collected from a number of sources using different ways. The data was collected by interviewing homeless or alcoholic individuals. They had to have experienced current or past homelessness or alcoholism. It was collected in two ways. The first approach entailed interviewing the alcoholic or homeless people. The second approach involved giving questionnaires to social workers and personnel working in rehabilitation and homeless shelters taking care and offering treatment to the alcoholics to fill. The questionnaire also acted as a guide to the interviewer when interviewing the alcoholics (Argeriou & McCarty, 1990). A questionnaire was filled up for every interview conducted.

The individuals to be interviewed were randomly selected. All persons interviewed were above the age of 18. However, individuals who were extremely intoxicated at the time of the interview or incoherent were excluded from the interview. The questionnaires contained 20 questions. The questions were framed in a manner to effectively give and show the history and clinical data of the concerned person. This was the individual’s history dealing with homelessness, alcohol use and their health (Rossi, 1991). The questions addressed both mental and physical health. Data was collected on the housing stability, the value of life, the mental capacity and the substance use by the interviewees. As pertains to the drug use, data was collected on the types of drugs used, the frequency of use and the results of using the drugs. Data used for the analysis was collected from one hundred people.

In the research, one hundred individuals were interviewed. They were between the age of eighteen and sixty. Forty were female while the remaining sixty were male. All of them had been homeless in the past one year. Ten percent had been homeless for more than six months, twenty percent for periods between the one and three year. The rest had been homeless for periods of more than three years. They gave different reasons for their being homeless such as lack of money to pay for proper homes. Other said that unemployment was the reason for their homelessness. Most of the homeless who were alcoholics used some other form drug such as marijuana (Brickner, 1990).

Eighty percent of the respondents started using alcohol after they became homeless. Other reasons given for the increase in consumption of alcohol were that they were going through periods of depression and anxiety after they became homeless. Of the hundred interviewed people, seventy percent had in the recent past being diagnosed with multiple health and medical problems. The most frequent medical cases were arthritis, hypertension and respiratory disorder. Two thirds of the interviewed at some point of their alcoholic period had experienced mental health issues. These included cases such as depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder. Eighty percent of the homeless interviewed had alcoholism problems (U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 2009).

The interviewed gave a number of approaches and ways they used to get the alcohol they consumed. Some said that they engaged in sexual activities, some used money meant for daily sustenance while others sold personal belongings to be able to afford or get the alcohol. Some stole while others begged for money. The respondents admitted to being drunk at least five days of the week. Half the number admitted to being arrested in the past one year for some alcohol related reasons such as unruly behavior, prostitution, public drunkenness or for stealing. All the persons interviewed said they were ready to stop taking alcohol when supported. They were ready to through rehabilitation programs.

The research helped establish a relationship between alcoholism and homelessness. The research showed that homelessness is a major cause of alcoholism. Homelessness was the independent variable while alcoholism was the dependent variable in the relationship. From the research, it was noted that the homeless experience immense substance abuse. The research showed that alcoholism is the major form of substance abuse experienced among the homeless. From the research, it was established that the intensity of alcoholism varies depending on a number of factors such as age and gender of the individual involved and the duration the individual has been homeless (Engel & Schutt, 2005). For instance, research shows that single homeless men have a higher chance of engaging in alcohol than their women counter parts. In addition, an individual who has been homeless for a long time has a higher chance of been an alcoholic than one who has been homeless for a shorter period.

Homelessness often leads to alcoholism leads to homelessness. The research showed that perpetual homelessness eventually lead to problems and disorders associated with alcohol use. This includes problems such as heavy physical injuries or impairments and psychiatric disorders. They also experience chronic disorders such as Schizophrenia and mood disorders (Momeni, 1990). Because of their environment, they under go many stressing and traumatizing experiences. The experiences usually depend on the age of the concerned person. For the adults, they go through different experiences such as sexual molestation, rapes, and physical attacks. These experiences often result to physical injuries such concussions fractures. For the young, there are often abused and victimized. The result of these is sexual, emotional and bodily harm on the homeless child.

The research helped establish the fact the homeless because of the alcoholism experience numerous stressful events. The research also helped establish that alcoholism is often connected with violence. It showed that most of the respondents at some point had faced violence or intimidation. The participants had gone through some assault that was a common occurrence among the homeless. The effect of the violence on the individual is that it caused depression, anxiety and feelings of anger (Andersen, Rice & Kominski, 2007). The person experiencing the violence develops a feeling of mistrust on other people. This limits his social interaction capacity. In some extreme cases, the persons involved in the violence may involve themselves in post-victimization behavior. The research showed that this is experienced when the individual acts violently either against himself or another person.

Although the research was effective in helping collect data, it had some weaknesses that must be noted. The first major concern was that because of using the interview method to collect data. This reduced the amount of data given since most the data was very sensitive in nature. This might have led to low reporting of data such as events and symptoms as the respondents may have been embarrassed of the interviewer thus giving little information. For instance, the respondents gave very little information concerning involvement in criminal activities and number of times they had been arrested. In addition, issues of mental health are critical issues that attract a lot of stigmatization. This restricted the amount of information given.  Another reason that raises concern is that most of the responses in the interview depended on the memory of the interviewed who may have forgotten some of the information and experience critical to the research.

The research indicated that alcoholism among the homeless was caused by the variables associated with homelessness. It is not a natural phenomenon but is brought about by the variables. The research helped show the number of approaches that can be taken to help the homeless out of their situation. The first step to offer help is to initiate programs that will provide proper shelter to the affected persons. There should strategies that tackle the urgent needs and the basic requirements of the homeless. They should help reduce poverty (Belcher, Frederick & DiBlasio, 1990). Programs and intervention that join the homeless and alcoholics to the essential and proper services should be put up. Rehabilitation programs should then be established to help the alcoholics recover from their condition, as there are ready and willing to do so. All they need is support and capacity.

There is need for an integrated approach and for a full diagnosis in the attempt to help the homeless alcoholics. Programs to provide the rehabilitation and health care services should be established. However, this alone is not effective. It should be accompanied by the provision of the basic needs such as housing, education and employment opportunities.

To conclude, the research showed that homelessness in most cases resulted to alcoholism and alcoholism resulted to homelessness. Therefore, initiatives to ensure that individuals are able to meet their basic needs such as housing should be established. This should be reinforced with an increase in the availability and accessibility of health services.




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Andersen, R., Rice, T. H., & Kominski, G. F. (2007). Changing the U.S. health care system: key issues in health services policy and management. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons

Argeriou, M., & McCarty, D. (1990). Treating alcoholism and drug abuse among homeless men and women: Nine-community demonstration grants. New York, NY: Routledge

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Brickner, W. (1990). Under the safety net: the health and social welfare of the homeless in the United States. Sheffield, UK: Norton

Burt, M. R. (1993). Over the edge: the growth of homelessness in the 1980s. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation

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Fox, R., & Armstrong, J. D. (1967). Alcoholism; behavioral research, therapeutic approaches. Colfax, NM: Springer Publishing Company

Glasser, I. (1994). Homelessness in global perspective. Boston, MA: G.K. Hall

Institute of Medicine, (U.S.) Committee on Health Care for Homeless People. (1988). Homelessness, health, and human. Washington, DC: National Academies Press

Momeni, J. A. (1990). Homelessness in the United States: Data and issues. San Francisco, CA: Greenwood Press

Rossi, P. H. (1991). Down and Out in America: The Origins of Homelessness. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press

Timmer, D. A., Eitzen, S. D. & Talley, K. D. (1994). Paths to homelessness: extreme poverty and the urban housing crisis. Boulder, CO: Westview Press

U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health. (2009). Homelessness. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University

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