Substance abuse is one of the leading public health issues affecting the homeless population in the UK. Several homeless people also battle alcohol addiction, and many die from alcohol-related harms each year.
Similar to the non-homeless alcoholics, individuals from this vulnerable population need alcohol addiction treatment and support services to heal from this illness. Yet, most of them can’t access professional help and thus remain trapped in the cycle of harmful drinking.
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Barriers to Treatment Access Among Homeless Alcoholics
Homelessness and alcoholism is a destructive combination. Homeless people already face unimaginable circumstances, and when alcoholism is part of the equation, their life outcomes are more devastating.
While breaking free from alcoholism is hard for anyone battling this illness, it’s much more challenging for alcoholics in the homeless community. Since these individuals face a higher level of stressful situations compared to the non-homeless population, it would logically follow that high-risk drinking may become a daily routine to cope with other unpleasant experiences in their day-to-day life.
Sadly, a majority end up with full-fledged alcohol addiction because of prolonged harmful drinking. Experiencing alcohol poisoning and other alcohol-related harms that lead to death is a reality for alcoholics going through homelessness because of the barriers preventing them from getting timely treatment before their conditions worsen.
Homelessness and alcohol addiction have become impossible to ignore, as suggested through these findings:
- In 2021 alone, there were 1,286 cases of homeless people deaths across the UK
- Drug and alcohol use accounted for about 41% of these mortalities
Most alcoholics from the homeless community lack insurance covers and the financial resources to pay for treatment services, as survival comes first before anything else. Often, priority is on immediate needs — finding the next meal and where to get nightly shelter — as addiction treatment needs take the back seat. With no insurance covers, lack of proper documentation (which makes them fear registration procedures in treatment facilities), and limited finances, accessing treatment services becomes unattainable for many.
At the same time, connecting with outpatient or residential alcohol treatment could be difficult because of their unfavourable circumstances. Not having finances means an inability to pay for alcohol rehab services or regular transport to attend outpatient appointments.
The lack of stable housing doesn’t permit alcoholics experiencing homelessness to attend or commit to detoxification programs at a specific time, place, or for a certain period. Achieving long-term recovery from alcoholism requires one to first undergo a medically-supervised detox process to clear alcohol toxins from the body, and restore it from an alcohol-dependent state to a normal state.
There are three main types of detox treatment services:
- Alcohol Home Detox Program
This type of detox service allows you to go through the process from your home with the guidance and constant support of in-home detox specialists. The home detox services of providers such as the UK Home Detox accommodate anyone battling alcoholism who desires extra privacy during detox treatment for personal reasons. An expert in-home detox care team manages your withdrawal symptoms and supervises your progress to ensure that your body is stable by the end of the process.
- Inpatient Detoxification Program
This detox service is ideal and most effective if you struggle with severe alcohol addiction. You’ll reside in your preferred treatment facility for a defined period and receive 24-hour monitoring as you go through the withdrawal process.
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- Outpatient Detoxification Program
This detox service is suited for those with mild alcohol addiction. You’ll visit the treatment centre during specific times every week to attend detox appointments, then return home or to your sober living facility. The visits end once the detox process is complete.
Creating more supportive housing and shelter programs, and strengthening the economic capacity of the homeless community would give alcoholics dealing with homelessness an opportunity to access immediate detox treatment.
Furthermore, a majority of the homeless individuals struggling with alcoholism and desire recovery rely heavily on free rehab services from state-funded providers, such as the National Health Service (NHS). The long waiting lists associated with these free services make it harder for homeless individuals to enter alcoholism treatment early enough. Most put the idea of treatment on hold and only try again when their alcohol addiction has worsened to the point of needing emergency care.
Homeless individuals living with alcoholism may not have a permanent address, which presents a challenge as far as being wait-listed for a specific alcohol treatment service is concerned. Those who aren’t easily reachable are likely to be dropped out of the waiting list. For this reason, recovery from this illness remains out of reach for many. Not to mention, most of them also have little-to-no awareness of the alcohol treatment and recovery options for the homeless people and might not know where to turn for assistance.
Dealing with the shame and embarrassment of being homeless makes those battling alcoholism sceptical about participating in the treatment process. Some dread encounters with treatment professionals out of fear of being stigmatised or not receiving culturally-sensitive care when seeking recovery services. As a result, many remain stuck in the pattern of harmful drinking.
Far too often, alcoholism co-exists with mental illness. Accessing mental care services is difficult for homeless individuals, as there aren’t many community programs that actively target this disadvantaged population’s complex mental health needs.
This, coupled with the fact that most alcoholics in the homeless population have little motivation to connect with addiction treatment and mental health treatment services, means that most live with untreated mental health conditions. High-risk drinking becomes their only way to self-medicate from the distressing mental health symptoms.
Homelessness and Alcoholism Treatment: Final Thoughts
Homeless individuals suffering from alcohol addiction face greater disadvantages when seeking recovery from this illness. Without a doubt, implementing more interventions and innovative solutions will ensure that alcoholics from this vulnerable population can connect with the available addiction and mental health treatment services and enjoy better health outcomes. Increasing the provision of affordable housing to the homeless will motivate those suffering from alcoholism to engage in treatment.