The Relationship Between Poverty and Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder doesn’t discriminate. It affects all ages, races, genders, and economic statuses. With substance misuse continuing to rise, lower-income people are at higher risk of experiencing poverty and substance use disorder. 

Why are Poverty and Substance Use Disorder Rates So High?

Although substance use disorder rates are higher in people living in poverty, there isn’t evidence proving cause and effect. Poverty is measured by the minimum income needed to cover basic needs versus the income of a person or family. 

If a person or family doesn’t make enough to cover their basic needs, they live in poverty. While financial stress can lead to substance misuse, substance use disorder can lead to poverty. 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, poverty guidelines in 2021 are:

With income this low, how does a person pay their bills and support a substance use disorder? 

Why is Substance Use Disorder High in Low-Income Communities?

Financial Problems and Poverty

People often begin using drugs or alcohol to cope with stress or trauma. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the stress in poverty isn’t only about money. Poverty creates a “context of stress.” 

Individuals living in poverty often face conflict, family violence, lack of food, and loss of housing. All of these stressors are known as poverty-related stress. The increase of stress because of poverty also amplifies the harmful effects of all stress. A person’s ability to respond to new challenges is also reduced as a result. 

Unemployment and Substance Use Disorder

Although substance use disorder doesn’t discriminate, people with a steady income are less likely to misuse drugs or alcohol. Data collected over the years shows substance use disorder is twice as high in the unemployed than those with jobs.

While unemployment can lead to misusing drugs and alcohol, drug use can also lead to problems at work. Individuals using drugs or alcohol can lose their jobs because of poor performance or attendance. The cycle of job loss, poverty, and substance use disorder further complicates recovery.

The Effects of Financial Problems and Poverty

Financial struggles affect people in various ways, which can result in unhealthy coping skills. For example, those with higher incomes often have more social support than those with lower incomes. And, social support is vital in substance use disorder treatment. 

People start dreaming about their future as kids. Maybe they have goals of buying a home or traveling the world. But, as adults, they have financial struggles which derail their dreams. These feelings often leave a person feeling powerless, which leads to using drugs and alcohol.

As a single person, it can be a struggle to meet your basic needs. However, the added financial stress of supporting a family can be even more overwhelming. Trouble providing food, housing, and your family’s basic needs can affect self-esteem, leading to misusing drugs or alcohol.

Mental Health and Poverty

According to a study published by the National Institute of Health (NIH), poverty and deprivation are key determinants of social and behavioral development in children as well as mental health in adults. Furthermore, a person’s mental health is shaped by economic, social, and environmental conditions in which they are born and grow.

The 2015 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) estimates 9.8 million adults struggle with a serious mental illness. Of this number, 2.5 million live below the poverty line. In addition, 7.5% of adults 26 and older living below poverty level, and 4.1% of those at poverty level struggle with a serious mental illness. Compared to 3.1% of those living above the poverty level.

Challenges in Poverty and Substance Use Disorder Treatment

poverty and substance use disorders

In 2018, Missouri had a statewide poverty rate of 13.2%. There were also 388,000 residents struggling with substance use disorder. In areas such as St. Louis, where the poverty rate is 21.8%, annual drug deaths are also the highest in the state. 

With the average cost of inpatient treatment over $14,000 for a 30-day stay out-of-pocket, even the middle-class struggle to pay for treatment. So, what does a person living in poverty do when they need treatment for substance use disorder? 

Single Parents, Poverty and Substance Use Disorder Treatment

Many individuals in poverty are single parents. Single women parents are more likely to experience high levels of socioeconomic problems, including homelessness and unemployment. When seeking substance use disorder treatment, single parents must find childcare. 

This can be a challenging task. Even if a parent finds childcare and enters treatment, many will have a recurrence of use when they return to real-life stressors. If this happens, they may be unable to receive assistance for treatment again. This causes even further problems within the family. 

Poverty and Substance Use Disorder: Paying for Treatment

The cost of substance use disorder treatment stops many people from getting the help they need. However, when you live in poverty, treatment can seem impossible. But, there are insurance plans and community resources that make it possible to afford substance use disorder treatment.

The Affordable Care Act and Substance Use Disorder Treatment

Sometimes, having health insurance is a luxury, with monthly premiums costing as much as rent. For this reason, those living at or below poverty levels often don’t have insurance. However, the Affordable Care Act offers insurance at a much lower cost.

But for those struggling to pay for food, the lower premiums are still too high. In this case, Medicare or Medicaid may be an option. But typically, you must meet strict requirements. 

State and Local Government Help for Substance Use Disorder Treatment

Many states offer substance use disorder treatment through public mental health or substance use disorder treatment centers. The state provides funding so those with little or no income and no insurance can receive treatment. These programs typically offer inpatient and outpatient treatment.

To qualify for state-funded recovery treatment, you must typically prove:

Why is Substance Use Disorder Treatment Important?

Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder has a ripple effect but so does the lack of access to treatment. Without treatment, people fall further into poverty, children end up in foster care, and the death toll from overdoses keeps rising. 

While Medicaid is the system of care for low-income individuals and families, it needs to improve treatment coverage for substance use and mental health disorders. For example, in 2019, almost 22 million people required treatment. However, only 2.6 million received help.

Offering substance use disorder treatment for those living in poverty has multiple benefits, including:

Comprehensive Treatment and Aftercare Programs

Poverty and substance use disorder almost always include mental illness. A comprehensive treatment program like at Sana Lake Behavioral Wellness Center starts with a complete evaluation to identify all issues surrounding one’s drug or alcohol use. 

Besides various therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and group therapies, comprehensive programs include a variety of aftercare services. These services may include:

By staying active in aftercare services and continuing with therapy for substance use disorder, many people maintain Recovery for Life and improve their financial future. 

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Substance Use Disorder Treatment

For many people, inpatient treatment is the best option for recovery. Those living in poverty may find inpatient treatment to be the only way they stay in recovery. Inpatient treatment removes all the stress of the outside world while providing a safe, substance-free environment to live in. 

While inpatient may offer the highest level of supervision, it’s also the most expensive. For those struggling with poverty and substance use disorder, outpatient treatment may be more affordable. It allows individuals to work and care for their families while attending therapy. 

Beat Poverty and Substance Use Disorder at Sana Lake BWC

Are you or someone you love struggling with substance use disorder? Are you avoiding treatment because you can’t afford it? At Sana Lake BWC, we work with insurance companies and private lenders to offer every person a chance at Recovery for Life. Contact us today to find out more.