Defining Poverty

People who suffer from inequalities due to economic and social standing are those who are considered to be in poverty. The term technically refers to the state of one who lacks a certain amount of material resources. It is used as a way to identify those who do not have the sufficient resources to live in a standard of living that is considered appropriate in society. Someone who is suffering from poverty may have to live in cramped, inadequate dwellings or could live on the streets. They may not have the finances to afford transportation, to go to school or to receive adequate health care or have access to sanitary living conditions. Extreme poverty includes not having enough clean and nutritious food to eat or water to drink.

The term poor refers to those who are in a state of poverty or impoverished. These people are categorized by their relative social standing which may or may not be an adequate identification. Those who are unemployed or in intermittent employment, hold low skill jobs, unstable family life, broken relationships, low involvement in the community, low aspirations, high levels of high school drop out rates, poor physical health or suffer from a high incidence of mental disorders are those considered to be poor. These characteristics, however, do not determine a persons intelligence, behaviors, attitudes or compassion.

Poverty and Substance Abuse

Research suggests that there is a strong association between poverty, social exclusion and problematic drug use. Those who are unemployed, particularly long term unemployed, in poor or insecure housing and are early school leavers have a higher rate of substance abuse than those who do not fit into these categories. It should be noted, however, that these risk factors do not determine whether a person abuses drugs or alcohol.

There are many risk factors associated with drug and alcohol abuse. These include childhood experiences, genes, mental illness and psychological factors. In some cases, people who are poor also are in high risk factors. But people who are not suffering from poverty also may embody these risk factors. Unfortunately, many people who are poor become entrenched in the lifestyle that often includes incarceration, exposure to law enforcement, poor health outcomes and homelessness. Because of these issues, surveys and research often focuses on these communities and the result is an over-representation in public health reporting. The research that suggests that poor people abuse drugs and alcohol is potentially biased because of this reporting.

Access to Rehab

One of the most significant risk factors for people who suffer the effects of poverty and substance abuse is access to appropriate health services. For people with adequate money or health insurance, and time available, there are a multitude of private drug and alcohol treatment centers that can be afforded. For those who do not have the resources available to them, treatments and detoxification can be difficult to find and to utilize. Public health services are often at capacity with long waiting times for treatment. Additionally, family responsibilities may mean that they are unable to attend a treatment facility because they are unable to afford care for children, parents or other relatives.

Quality Issues with Poverty and Substance Abuse

For some people, the quality of a substance is more important that how much they consume with regard to health risks. This is particularly the case for people not suffering from poverty. 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

The cycle of poverty is a phenomenon where people become entrenched into poverty due to a number of different factors. Family experience, lack of education, limited access to employment and health care all contribute to this destructive cycle. Poverty may commence in generations before the existing one and the role models set up people to continue to live in this way. 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. Additionally, if parents suffer from addiction to drugs or alcohol, their children may have a higher risk of also suffering from this disease.