Addiction and Poverty: A Cycle We Can End

My hope is the information on the issue of poverty and addiction will allow you to develop a deeper understanding of the disease and how poverty places an extra layer on overcoming addiction. If we know the problem, we can better address it and provide communities around the world with a solution. Please contact me with questions, ideas, or if you’d like more information on how this is done in Idaho.

As always, Thank you for reading!

Addiction and Poverty Defined


To end the cycle of poverty and addiction we need to first have a working definition of both terms. Poverty is defined as the state of one who lacks material resources. This might be characterized by cramped housing, living on the streets or in a shelter, and a lack of transportation. People who experience poverty are less likely to go to school, receive adequate health care, and have less access to sanitary living conditions. It’s important to remember poverty can be experienced intermittently, for weeks, months, or years, and over generations. The longer one experiences poverty, the greater the affects and risks of developing unhealthy relationships with substances. 


Addiction is defined as a physical, as well as, psychological dependence. It is possible for people to become psychologically dependent without having a physical addiction. The psychological aspect involves craving, an intense desire to keep on using the substance/object of one’s addiction even when it’s obviously leading to problems. I’m sure you’ve experienced this sensation at various times in your life, whether with a substance like alcohol, chocolate cake, or television. Just the thought of going without the substance can fill one with dread and anxiety. With this as a side effect, it can be difficult to imagine life without the substance/ object.

The human body is amazing and can adapt to substances ingested, whether healthy or not. A side effect of this phenomenon is the physical dependency which can develop. This can lead one to experience withdrawal symptoms when the level of the substance in the bloodstream fall to low. These symptoms are highly unpleasant and can be fatal. Another outcome could be needing more of the substance to get the same effect. 

Dealing With the Underlying Causes

The underlying reasons for beginning the substance/ object dependency should be noted, observed and dealt with if one is to fully recover. Identifying the causes to seek out a substance give one more tools for dealing with the thoughts, emotions, and feelings as which arise, causing the craving for a substance.

Poverty and Substance Abuse

Research suggests a strong association between poverty, social exclusion, problematic drug use. This manifests itself as under or unemployment, insecure housing, and leaving school before graduating. This association coupled with other dispositions accumulate to mean some people are more at risk of addiction, although there does not seem to be any one single factor which determines whether someone will form an addiction. It is a mixture of genetic and environmental factors which play a role in forming addictive behaviors. 

There are 4 Risk Factors that Lead to Addiction

#1. Childhood Experiences

Differing childhood experiences can lead to addiction. This means individuals who grow up in a dysfunctional family, or children who are exposed to trauma, may use substances as a means to cope with inner turmoil. There is also an increase in chances of addiction for children exposed to a family member who struggles with substance abuse because the behavior can appear to be normal. 

#2. Genes

There is little doubt that addiction passes from one generation to the next. It can be difficult to determine if this is due to sharing an environment or because of genetic factors. Scientists have been unable to find one single gene responsible for addiction, but it seems likely that a combination of genes does play a part.

#3. Mental Health Issues

Many addicts suffer from a dual diagnosis; mental health problem coupled with an addiction. In some cases this other condition will have developed as a result of substance abuse or the substance abuse has led to the addiction.

Individuals who have problems with impulsivity are more at risk of addiction. Those suffering from addiction can learn and create space between stimuli (thought, feeling, emotion) and response (choosing to use) by practicing Mindfulness Based Substance Abuse Treatment or working with a practitioner of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

#4. Psychological Factors

Some individuals have personalities that put them more at risk of falling into addiction. Those people who have an inner need for high degrees of sensory pleasure will often be attracted to drug abuse. People who have a tendency to act impulsively will be liable to overuse alcohol and drugs because they don’t think enough about the consequences.

Something to Note: Quality Issues with Poverty and Substance Abuse

A person who has money and social standing can afford to make particular choices with regard to their substance addiction. They can afford to buy alcohol that is higher quality or drugs that are more pure than their impoverished counterparts. Additionally, they will have access to clean needles and other drug equipment and reduce their risk of infection or disease as a result.

Those who are poor often do not have these choices. They will consume low quality alcohol that may have health consequences. The drugs that they can afford to purchase may be cut with dangerous adulterants or be toxic.

Cycle of Poverty and Addiction

People become entrenched into poverty due to a number of different factors which we have read about already, but I feel should be reviewed. These include family experience, lack of education, limited access to employment and health care. Without outside intervention to give people access to education and employment, the cycle may continue for generations. With regard to addiction, there is some evidence to suggest that those in the cycle of poverty who also suffer from substance abuse problems have a significantly more difficult time breaking the cycle and removing themselves from this harmful life than those who are not poor. 

End the Cycle of Poverty and Addiction

Communities need to rally around and support entities which provide healthy food (free, subsidized or for purchase), safe places (public library or community centers), public education, transportation, health care providers trained in substance abuse treatment, and employment which supports sobriety. 

First Things First!

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs


We have to first address physiological needs before we are able to access the higher states of cognition. Then, those who suffer from poverty and addiction cycles can begin to develop a broader toolbox for continued progress on becoming stable, healthy, members of the community.  I experienced this first hand through overcoming my own struggle with temporary poverty followed by addiction.

The Solution

Continuum of Care


  • Promotion—These strategies are designed to create environments and conditions that support behavioral health and the ability of individuals to withstand challenges. Promotion strategies also reinforce the entire continuum of behavioral health services.
  • Prevention—Delivered prior to the onset of a disorder, these interventions are intended to prevent or reduce the risk of developing a behavioral health problem, such as underage alcohol use, prescription drug misuse and abuse, and illicit drug use.
  • Treatment—These services are for people diagnosed with a substance use or other behavioral health disorder.
  • Recovery—These services support individuals’ abilities to live productive lives in the community and can often help with abstinence

Prevention Strategies need to be discussed and created by including those in recovery, law makers, local officials, and community leaders. The more involvement from various sectors, the more in-depth and approachable the prevention strategies will be, allowing for all community members to become active participants.

Cultural Awareness and Competency
Improving cultural and linguistic competence is an important strategy for addressing persistent behavioral health disparities experienced by diverse communities. Diverse populations tend to have less access to prevention services and poorer behavioral health outcomes. Cultural and linguistic competence includes, but is not limited to, the ability of an individual or organization to interact effectively with people of different cultures. To produce positive change, prevention practitioners must understand the cultural and linguistic context of the community, and they must have the willingness and skills to work within this context.

Treatment Approaches include Individual Psychotherapy, Couple/family Therapy, Group Therapy, Cognitive/behavior Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Behavior Modification, Dual Diagnosis Drug Rehab, Trauma Therapy, Activity Therapy, EMDR, and  Vocational rehabilitation services.

Recovery: It Takes a Village!

Recovery Coaches – Counselors – Health Care Providers – AA/NA/OA

Recovery Coaching is a form of strength-based supports for persons in or seeking recovery from alcohol and other drugs, and other addictions. It focuses on honoring values and making principle-based decisions, creating a clear plan of action, and using current strengths to reach future goals. The coach serves as an accountability partner to help the person sustain his/her recovery. The Recovery Coach helps the person access recovery, as well as access systems needed to support recovery such as benefits, health care, etc.

Recovery Coaches also:

  • develop the recovery plan;
  • help to initiate and sustain an individual/family in their recovery from substance use or addiction;
  • promote recovery by removing barriers and obstacles to recovery;
  • serve as a personal guide and mentor for people seeking, or already in recovery;
  • help a client find resources for harm reduction, detox, treatment, family support and education, local or online support groups; or help a client create a change plan to recover on their own; and
  • help individuals find ways to stop using (abstinence), or reduce harm associated with addictive behaviors.

Recovery Coaches work with individuals beyond recovery initiation through stabilization and into recovery maintenance. They function as a guide to help with decision-making and support steps toward recovery. Recovery Coaches do not provide clinical services — (primary treatment for addiction, diagnosis) and recognize that there are many pathways to recovery.

See Also

Counseling Services in Your Area

Alcoholics Anonymous

Narcotics Anonymous 

Over Eaters Anonymous

Recovery Coach Poster 8.5 X 11

My hope is the information on the issue of poverty and addiction will allow one to develop a deeper understanding of the disease and how poverty places an extra layer on overcoming addiction. If we know the problem, we can better address it and provide communities around the world with a solution. Please contact me with questions, ideas, or if you’d like more information on how this is done in Idaho.

As always, Thank you for reading!


Author: Caitlin Hegwood

I create healthy recipes, share natural self-care tips, provide mindfulness practices, offer private and group yoga classes, and health and wellness coaching to my amazing community of wellness seekers. I hope you'll join me on this journey to wellness by subscribing below!

One thought on “Addiction and Poverty: A Cycle We Can End

  1. With everyone’s help and [the willingness of the vulnerable population to change] – That’s the thing. Poverty can be eliminated when the poor decide to want to change, to be educated in order to get out of the situation…

    To feed the poor is not that helpful. Teaching them how to feed themselves is. Complicated issue, I know, especially when the poorest of people don’t have access to clean water, let alone information.

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