Updated on April 3, 2024
4 min read

How Does a Low-Income Influence Addiction?

The relationship between addiction and poverty is complex. Addiction doesn’t discriminate, and poverty doesn’t necessarily cause addiction. However, lower-income people are more likely to struggle with drug and alcohol abuse.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and most modern doctors classify addiction as a chronic disease that affects the brain. It’s not a character flaw or a moral failure.

Several stereotypes perpetuate the idea that poverty and addiction go hand-in-hand. These stigmas often make it harder for people in low-income communities to recover from addiction.

What Causes Addiction?

Evidence shows that more people suffer from substance use disorder (SUD) in lower-income communities than in the middle or upper classes.2,6,7 However, no scientific evidence shows a correlation between addiction and poverty.

Addiction can affect people born into any circumstance. A person’s likelihood of developing a SUD depends on many aspects, including:

  • DNA
  • Family history
  • Mental health
  • Trauma, abuse, or neglect
  • Education
  • Race
  • Environmental factors
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5 Risk Factors for Addiction in Low-Income Communities

A commonly accepted hypothesis among professionals is that poverty increases the risk factors of substance addiction. A risk factor is anything that raises your chances of addiction.

Here are the most common risk factors that affect people of lower-income American communities:

1. Lower Social Support Levels

Many low-income Americans must work two or more jobs, often with odd work hours, to afford basic living. This practice can make it difficult to maintain healthy relationships, leading to loneliness and a limited support system. Loneliness is common among people who suffer from addiction.

2. Increased Stress Levels

Stress is a well-known risk factor for substance abuse and relapse. Low-income Americans often worry about affording basic human necessities, leading to increased stress.

3. Decreased Self-Esteem

People struggling with poverty are more likely to have low self-esteem because of feelings of shame, guilt, and low self-worth. These feelings are risk factors for substance abuse.

4. Increased Hopelessness

Spending most of your time thinking about how to survive can lead to feelings of hopelessness. Certain aspirations can seem impossible, and these can include:

  • Attending college
  • Traveling
  • Getting married
  • Buying a home

This feeling of despair can increase your likelihood of addiction.

5. Lack of Healthcare 

Approximately 30 million people in the U.S. are uninsured, which means they have little to no access to affordable health care. Mental health issues, chronic illnesses, and other untreated disorders can often lead to self-medication, a primary cause of addiction.

Unemployment and Addiction

A study conducted between 1990 and 2010 showed that substance abuse is more prevalent among people who are unemployed.4 Unemployment can also increase your chances of experiencing risk factors for addiction. 

The stress of losing a job and the inability to pay for daily necessities can drive you towards:


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Financial Troubles and Addiction

Addiction can cause serious financial troubles, especially for low-income people. Addictions to the following substances can cost your family a large percentage of their monthly income:

  • Cigarettes 
  • Alcohol
  • Prescription medications
  • Illicit drugs

The added cost of buying addictive substances decreases the likelihood of achieving financial success and increases the risk factors for addiction. If you come from a low-income background, this cycle can make it very difficult to overcome SUD.

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Addiction Resources for Low-Income People

Substance abuse disorder is a serious illness that needs to be treated by a professional. Unfortunately, many people in low-income communities don’t have access to education about free or low-income treatment options.

If you or someone you know needs to find a free or low-income addiction treatment facility, here are some places to start:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

The SAMHSA is an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They work to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on American communities. You can find treatment facilities confidentially and anonymously using their online search tool

State-Funded Rehab Centers

Many states provide funding for drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers. Those with no insurance or low income can access these treatment centers.

Before treatment, these centers usually need proof of:

  • Official residence in the state
  • Lack of income or insurance
  • Legal residency in the United States
  • Addiction status or need for intervention

There may be other requirements before the individual can access treatment. SAMHSA maintains a directory of all Single State Agencies (SSAs) on its website.

Faith-Based Rehabilitation

Several faith-based groups operate drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs. Larger ones include: 

  • Salvation Army 
  • Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Narcotics Anonymous
  • Celebrate Recovery

You can also find secular recovery programs such as SMART Recovery and local organizations in your area.


The relationship between poverty and addiction is complex. Poverty can increase the risk factors for addiction and make it hard to overcome substance use disorders.

These risk factors are caused by a lack of support and healthcare. Feelings of despair and hopelessness among low-income communities can also be a driving factor for addiction.

Coming from a low-income background can make it hard to find educational resources on addiction and treatment. However, there are accessible online resources, state-funded programs, and local organizations that can help you recover from addiction.

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Updated on April 3, 2024
7 sources cited
Updated on April 3, 2024

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