Addiction and Low-Income Americans

Addiction is a disease that can affect anyone, no matter their age, race, gender, or socioeconomic status. The amount of substances being abused has increased over the years and unfortunately, low-income Americans are at a higher risk for addiction.

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How Does Addiction Impact Low-Income Americans?

There is no evidence that demonstrates cause and effect between poverty and addiction, but studies have shown that substance abuse is more common among individuals of lower economic status. Poverty in the United States is measured by comparing a person’s or a family’s income to a minimum amount of income needed to cover basic needs. People who cannot cover their basic needs or, struggle to make ends meet, may be considered to be living in a low-income household or in poverty. Financial struggles among low-income Americans often result from substance abuse when a person spends their money trying to maintain their addiction. Other ways by which financial trouble can increase the risk of developing an addiction include:

  • Stress is a common risk factor for substance abuse and relapsing. The stress of worrying about how to afford shelter, food, and other basic needs can be overwhelming. When stressed, people are tempted to turn to drugs or alcohol as temporary stress relief.
  • Poverty can increase a feeling of hopelessness. When trying to make ends meet, long-term goals like attending college, buying a home, or traveling can seem impossible. A feeling of lost hope or unreachable goals can increase the likelihood that a person will feel powerless and vulnerable to substance abuse.
  • Lower self-esteem means higher risk of addiction. In a country that highly values financial success, having a low income can feel like failure and lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and low self-esteem. According to research, low self-esteem is linked to a higher risk of developing a substance use disorder.
  • Low-income adults are likely to have less social support than their higher-income peers. When most of your time is focused on survival, you are less likely to have energy to be social or maintain a strong support system. Studies have even shown that lower income adults are less likely to be married or have a domestic partner. Friends and family can make a huge impact in helping a person cope with addiction.
  • Poverty limits access to health care. The Affordable Healthcare Act (AHCA) has helped increase the number of Americans with health insurance since 2010. Unfortunately, about 45% of adults are still uninsured because the cost is still too high, or their state did not expand Medicaid. Access to preventative health care is limited for low-income Americans and untreated mental health or chronic illness can lead to the use of drugs or alcohol to self-medicate symptoms.

Many addictions start as a coping mechanism for stress or pleasure seeking, but as an addiction gets worse over time, it becomes more expensive to maintain. Although drug and alcohol rehab can be expensive, the cost of addiction is far worse.

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Unemployment and Addiction

Addiction does not discriminate based on socioeconomic status, but someone with a stable income is less likely to have an addiction than someone with no financial security. Years of data show that addiction rates are twice as high among the unemployed than those who have jobs, and in many cases, the stress of unemployment leads to substance abuse. Addiction also increases the likelihood that a person will have problems performing at work, and this can lead to job loss and even lower income. Being fired for job performance can make it more difficult to find new employment, increasing overall stress and risk of substance abuse. Low-income Americans who struggle with drug or alcohol dependence may also struggle with job security, making it harder to escape the cycle of addiction.

The Cost of Addiction for Low-Income Americans

Addictions are cumulative, meaning they will cost more to maintain as time passes. For example, a nicotine addiction can have a great impact on a person’s finances due to the high cost of cigarettes. Someone who just started smoking may only buy a pack a week but, as their tolerance rises, they may soon become pack-a-day smokers. Other addictions, like gambling or illicit drugs, can be much more expensive and cost half of a person’s income at poverty level. The price of purchasing an addictive substance or participating in addictive behavior isn’t the only cost of addiction. The cost of addiction for low-income Americans involves more than just the purchasing an addictive substance or participating in addictive behavior. The cost of addiction may also include:

  • Increased car, health, and life insurance premium costs
  • Missing days at work, losing a job, or the inability to find employment
  • Legal bills such as traffic tickets or other drug-related legal problems
  • Medical costs; addictions can cause many health problems
  • Life experiences or educational opportunities

Financial loss as a result of addiction can have a snowball effect on low-income Americans. People may neglect bills in order to cover the cost of addiction, resulting in bad credit, missed payments, and overwhelming debt.

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Treatment Options for Low-Income Americans with Addiction

The cost of rehab can deter low-income Americans struggling with addiction but luckily, there are many options for treatment. The total price of rehab will vary depending on the level of care needed, and most health insurance plans will cover at least a portion of the cost. Low-income Americans that can’t afford private health insurance on their own can apply through the Health Insurance Marketplace and some individuals may be eligible for Medicare or Medicaid.

There are many state and local government programs that can provide public assistance to low-income Americans with addiction. SAMHSA’s national helpline is open 24/7 to assist people in finding the right treatment whether they have insurance or not. Certain treatment centers may also offer a sliding-scale or scholarships to help assist with treatment costs. Call a treatment provider today and find out what options are available.

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