How Does Addiction Impact Low-Income Americans?

Although there is no evidence that demonstrates cause and effect between poverty and addiction, 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 who 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.

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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’ worth of data shows that addiction rates are twice as high among the unemployed than among those who have jobs; 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.

Consequences Of Financial Trouble

Struggling financially affects individuals in many ways that can contribute to unhealthy coping mechanisms. For example, low-income adults are likely to have less social support than their higher-income peers; social support is crucial in the recovery process. Dashed hopes due to financial instability, like goals of purchasing a home or being able to travel the world, can increase the likelihood that a person will feel powerless and vulnerable to substance abuse. The stress brought on by the worry of how to afford food, rent, and other basic needs can be overwhelming. When stressed, people are tempted to turn to drugs or alcohol as temporary stress relief. This can also contribute to having a lower self-esteem if individuals are unable to obtain the material possessions that they think they need to have status in the world. One study published in the journal Addiction and Health stated that those who are involved in addiction have a lower self-esteem compared with the ordinary person. Many addictions start as a coping mechanism for stress or pleasure-seeking; as addictions get worse over time, they become more expensive to maintain. Although drug and alcohol rehab can be expensive, the cost of addiction is far worse.

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; as their tolerance rises, however, 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 an addictive behavior isn’t the only cost of addiction. The cost of addiction may also include:

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

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. What’s more, access to preventative health care is limited for low-income Americans; untreated mental health or chronic illness can lead to the use of drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has helped increase the number of Americans with health insurance since 2010. About 45% of adults are still uninsured, however, either because the cost is still too high or because their state did not expand Medicaid.

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Treatment Options For Low-Income Americans With Addiction

The cost of rehab can deter low-income Americans struggling with addiction; luckily, however, there are many payment 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.

Explore These Featured Treatment Centers

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



Ginni Correa

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  • Ginni Correa is a Latinx writer and activist living in Orlando,FL. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida and double majored in Psychology and Spanish with a minor in Latin American Studies. After graduation, Ginni worked as an educator in public schools and an art therapist in a behavioral health hospital where she found a passion working with at-risk populations and advocating for social justice and equality. She is also experienced in translating and interpreting with an emphasis in language justice and creating multilingual spaces. Ginni’s mission is to build awareness and promote resources that can help people transform their lives. She believes in the importance of ending stigma surrounding mental health and substance abuse while creating more accessible treatment in communities. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, crafting, and attending music festivals.

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Reviewed by Certified Addiction Professional:

Deborah Montross Nagel

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  • Deborah has a Master’s Degree from Lesley University and has been certified as an Addictions Counselor in PA since 1986. She is currently a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor – CAADC. She is  nationally certified as a MAC – Master Addictions Counselor – by NAADAC (The National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors). Her 37 years of experience and education are in addiction, recovery, and codependency. Addiction affects the entire system around the addict. There is no "bad guy" in the system. Fight the addiction, and help the addict. I help loved ones restore sanity to their lives and hence encourage change. Recovery is possible!

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