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Stereotype #3: Homeless people are addicts

“Hi, my name is Charlie and I am an alcoholic and a drug addict,” Charlie said as the room full of businessmen, moms, teachers and store clerks fell quiet. He was about to share about his experience with step five of the twelve Alcoholics Anonymous steps: admitting to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

“It was my birthday two weeks ago and my mom bought me tickets to spend the weekend in Miami,” Charlie said. “Miami for an Alcoholic is the worst, but I’m proud to say I didn’t mess it up.” Everyone laughed.

Charlie went on to share that he had a college friend in Miami and that he needed to tell him something that’s been weighing on him for years. He had slept with his friend’s girlfriend right after they broke up.

“I called him up and he made me feel like crap, he was so nice. He was so happy to hear from me and I was so afraid to tell him,” Charlie said. “But I did. I apologized for what I did. I was sick and he understood. He forgave me, and after carrying this for years, that forgiveness was a weight lifted off of me. It felt good. I feel free.”

“Thank you for sharing, Charlie,” everyone said.


What a humbling and beautiful thing Charlie did, and to share this in front of others was brave. There was honesty in this AA meeting and no judgement. Just people laughing along or saying encouraging words because they understood. A room full of different people from different backgrounds and different socioeconomic status, and they all understood one another because they all knew what it was like to struggle with addiction.

Addiction is a chronic brain disease where one is physically and psychologically dependent on drugs, alcohol or a behavior. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 38% of the homeless abuse alcohol and 26% of the homeless abuse drugs other than alcohol. Despite the stereotype that homeless people are addicts, addiction is a disease that can affect anyone. The AA meeting with businessmen, moms and teachers was further proof of this.


A favorite saying in substance abuse treatment is the acronym HALT! Don’t get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired because if you do, you’re more likely to mess up and use. Isn’t this something we can all relate to, whether we struggle with addiction or not?

Think of this in the context of homelessness: food is scarce, things don’t go your way, your family has left and you don’t have a place to rest your head. While there are many who are homeless who are not addicts, someone experiencing homelessness is daily experiencing hunger, anger, loneliness and fatigue. That would tempt any one of us to want to find an escape through drugs or alcohol.

Regardless of circumstances, taking that first drink or that first hit might start off as a choice. When it comes to addiction, however, that is not something people choose. Addiction knows no race, gender, background or status… it can impact anyone.

Scott’s Story

“I had a cat who was an alcoholic at one time. Anytime I’d touch his tail, he’d get real bristly real fast… you just know he had to be an alcoholic,” Scott said in an Alanon meeting. “That’s what my dad was like.”

He shared how he started to go to Alanon meetings, a program for family and friends of alcoholics, when he was 12 years old. Both his parents were alcoholics at the time and all he wanted to do was fix them. It was there he was told that his dad was not a bad person, but that he was a sick person.

“It was through Alanon that I started to realize how much I had in common with the alcoholic,” he said.

Like the alcoholic, Scott explained that we all can go through a cycle that involves our body, spirit and mind. The alcoholic has little control over what alcohol does to his body, but decides he’s going to quit drinking it for good this time. Then his spirit becomes restless, irritable and discontent, which leads to his mind developing this obsession with just needing that one drink. This is a similar cycle with any substance abuse.

Change happens with a step

Simply put, alcoholics have an obsession to control and enjoy their drinking. Addicts have an obsession to control and enjoy what they are addicted to.

“For me, I had an obsession to control and enjoy my life,” Scott said. “I wanted my parents to behave a certain way so they can be happy. I was addicted to the alcoholic being okay.”

Like the addict, we may find that we have this obsession to want to control and enjoy something in our lives. We may find that we are not so different from the addict.

“If I think like an alcoholic, I can recover like an alcoholic,” Scott said. “Change happens after that first step, admitting we are powerless over what we want to control and that our lives have become unmanageable.”

Addicts are powerless over what they are addicted to and will pursue their toxic habits even when it could hurt them and others, making their lives unmanageable. Addiction is not a homeless issue, it’s something that, again, can happen to all of us. But there is hope for change and it starts with a step.

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