It’s undeniable that being wealthy can protect a person from many of life’s harsh realities and offer countless advantages in virtually any situation. However, when it comes to developing an addiction, this is not always the case. Anyone from any walk of life and any background can develop a substance use disorder following incessant, irresponsible drug and/or alcohol use. As is evident from the dozens of celebrities who enter and reenter addiction rehab on a yearly basis, wealth does not shield you from addiction.

Addiction Does Not Care Who You Are

As a general rule, addiction is an equal opportunity affliction. Whether you’re the wealthiest person in the world or the poorest, you can absolutely develop a debilitating addiction. While there are certainly many misconceptions that link poverty to substance abuse and addiction, they are not entirely accurate. There are over 20 million people with substance use disorders in America and countless others across the world – not every one of these individuals are poor or even close.[1]

There is very little that directly correlates substance abuse to either wealth or poverty. The fact that addiction is more common among people living in poverty does not mean there is any direct causality.[2] Several overlapping factors make it so people who live in poor households are exposed to other conditions that may make them more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. Additionally, many of the same factors that lead to poverty, are also among the same factors that lead to substance abuse and addiction. These include:[3],[4]

Picture of a person laying down on a sidewalk.

  • Lack of Education
  • Parental Substance Abuse
  • Poor Mental Health
  • Unemployment
  • Lack of Family Structure
  • Poor Overall Health

Poverty and Substance Abuse Are Connected

Although it’s impossible to determine a direct cause and effect relationship between the two, there’s an undeniable link between poverty and substance abuse. People who are living at, below or near the poverty line are more likely to have low education, insufficient job skills and poor health than people who are not struggling financially.[5] Likewise, people with substance abuse issues are more likely to perform poorly at work, lose their jobs and dropout of school than people without drug or alcohol problems.
Picture of one person sleeping at his desk and another person who is happy to be at work.
This cycle makes it difficult to tell what comes first, but it also shows that being impoverished is a risk factor for developing an addiction, just as addiction is a risk factor for becoming impoverished. Add in the fact that being poor is a major stressor unto itself and it becomes easier to understand the symbiotic relationship between poverty, substance abuse and addiction.

However, this is not to suggest that a person who is not poor has extra protection from addiction or that living in poverty guarantees one will struggle with addiction. The unfortunate reality is that poverty exposes people to circumstances that are often precursors of chronic substance abuse. Even further, when an impoverished person is struggling with an addiction, he or she faces more difficulty finding and affording adequate treatment, compounding the problem even further.
What the Numbers Say:

  • 38 percent of homeless people abuse alcohol and 26 percent regularly use illicit drugs[6]
  • According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately one out of every six unemployed workers were addicted to drugs or alcohol, nearly twice the rate of people with full-time jobs[7]
  • Children who grow up in houses with an income of $15,000 or less are 22 times more likely to be abused than those in households with an income of $30,000 or higher. Childhood abuse is frequently an early indicator of adolescent and/or adult substance abuse[8]

Infographic showing rates of substance abuse and addiction among homeless people.
Infographic stating that unemployed workers are twice as likely to be addicted to drugs or alcohol than people with full-time jobs.
Infographic stating that children are more likely to be abused in poor homes than affluent ones.
Poverty is certainly a risk factor for the development of an addiction, but so are family history and mental health – which can impact anyone, regardless of socioeconomic status. All of the risk factors that lead to addiction among impoverished people can also lead to addiction among the wealthy. However, because people in lower socioeconomic classes tend to encounter these factors at a much greater rate than wealthier people, the perception is that poverty leads to addiction, which is an inaccurate characterization.

Wealth Comes with Risks as Well

Picture of a young adult female sitting on the floor and drinking liquor.
While studies show that poor people may encounter things that make them more likely to develop an addiction, people who are wealthy are not without their own risks. First and foremost, drugs and alcohol cost money, which wealthy people are more likely to have in excess. Research has shown that teens from affluent families are just as likely, if not more so, to use drugs or alcohol than their poorer counterparts.[9]

In these situations, affluent youths are often driven to drugs or alcohol because of an abundance of disposable income, disconnected families, a lack of parental supervision and the pressure to succeed.[10] This is especially frightening when you consider that nine-out-of-10 adults with substance use disorders began using drugs or alcohol before age 18.[11]

Help is Available for Rich and Poor

Perhaps the largest problem the impoverished face when it comes to substance abuse is a lack of treatment options and addiction education. People with financial difficulties are less likely to have disposable income to spend on addiction treatment and also less likely to have health insurance. Many are then left to figure out how to manage their addictions and any other underlying mental health difficulties on their own. Rich or poor, you’re not likely to defeat an addiction without the help of trained professionals.

Unfortunately, there isn’t any regulation on the cost of addiction treatment, and many facilities overcharge and underperform. At Unity Behavioral Health, we are proud to be among the few nationally accredited facilities that offer affordable addiction care. Our mission is to provide our patients with the highest quality addiction treatment services at an affordable price.

No matter what walk of life you come from, we have an addiction treatment program that can help you. When you or someone close to you has made the decision to seek treatment for chronic substance abuse, we will be standing by ready to help. Contact us right away at 561-708-5295.



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