In the UK today, there is a complex link between mental health, drug abuse and housing instability, otherwise known as dual diagnosis and homelessness. Here, we look into the two issues in more detail and reveal what the relationship between dual diagnosis and homelessness is, as well as how we as a society can help people who are struggling with these concerns.


Defining Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis is the concurrent existence of two chronic conditions, most commonly a mental health disorder and substance use disorder. Unfortunately, individuals struggling with both a mental health condition and substance abuse are likely to find that each condition intensifies the others, creating a negative cycle of symptoms that can be very hard to break. What’s more, as this article sets out, the symptoms and struggle can extend beyond health and can have a big impact on someone’s ability to find and maintain somewhere safe to live.


Common Signs of Drug Addiction and Mental Health

Both drug addiction and mental health issues can manifest together which can make it really hard to recognise the signs and therefore get a diagnosis, and seek help. However, here are some of the most common signs to be aware of:

Signs of Drug Addiction

There are a number of signs and symptoms of drug addiction. They can include:

  • Increased tolerance and withdrawal
  • Loss of control
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Abandoning activities
  • Risky behaviour and use
  • Social and personal problems
  • Physical signs like weight loss, a lack of personal hygiene and changes in appearance


Signs of Mental Health Issues

There are also a number of signs that a mental health issue is developing, such as:

  • Mood changes
  • Withdrawal
  • Changes in activity levels
  • Changes in performance
  • Lying and dishonest behaviour
  • Cognitive changes
  • Increased sensitivity
  • Illogical thinking
  • Sleep and appetite changes
  • Mood swings

While these are some of the most common symptoms of both drug addiction and mental health concerns, it’s important to remember that these conditions can manifest in different ways for different people.


The Statistics: Mental Health and Homelessness

Recent studies have found that up to 80% of people experiencing homelessness also suffer from a type of mental illness, substance abuse or both. This alone highlights that drug use is significantly higher among the homeless population compared to the general population. Plus, for many homeless people, drug misuse is intertwined with other complex needs which creates a further challenge in diagnosing.

We also know that substance misuse and mental health can individually cause people to become homeless, as well as being a result of stress and trauma that is experienced and commonly associated with homelessness. This again proves the risk of a negative cycle for homeless people and makes it very hard to provide housing and support to anyone affected.

In addition, drug-related deaths in the UK are on the rise and are particularly high among the homeless population. These stats showcase more than just personal turmoil amongst the homeless community but also a broader societal issue that requires immediate and multi-faceted responses.


Contributing Factors To Substance Abuse and Housing Instability

As mentioned above, the relationship between homelessness and dual diagnosis is negative and cyclical. Mental health issues can result in substance use as a way to self-medicate, and this can turn into a substance abuse disorder, which can result in loss of employment, strained relationships and even housing instability. However, we also know that the challenges faced by homeless individuals can stimulate mental health disorders and substance dependency. This can create a very challenging loop that is hard to escape.

What’s more, barriers to stable housing can make it even more difficult for individuals to break the cycle. Their condition, which can be unstable, makes it hard for them to meet community housing regulations as well as adhere to the roles. Plus, societal stigma often closes doors to these individuals when all they need is support and stability to help them get onto the path of recovery.


Challenges in Providing Care and Support

Unfortunately, the obstacles for healthcare providers and social services can be difficult to navigate, and common. For starters, reaching out to the homeless community is hard in itself thanks to the transient nature and the complexity of dual diagnosis makes treatment even more challenging.

In addition to this, getting the community on board and getting someone to admit that they need help can be very difficult especially when mental health and drug addiction are included. Finally, integrated treatment approaches that address mental health, substance abuse and housing stability, while vital, are often challenging to arrange, maintain and implement.


Moving Towards Solutions

In order to effectively address this crisis, there needs to be robust policy support systems put in place and well-thought-out policy changes. This includes expanded access to integrated treatments, and ensuring rehab programmes are readily available and equipped to address unique needs.

Currently, there are UK initiatives that offer a housing-first approach, showing promise in helping those with drug misuse and then addressing their health and social care needs but we need more of this. In doing so, we should provide stable housing to individuals without preconditions, creating a foundation for them to engage with treatment and support.

Finally, there needs to be a great emphasis on community education, increasing awareness and understanding. This will not only open up the conversation regarding dual diagnosis and homelessness but also reduce the stigma associated with both and foster a more compassionate and supportive society.


Find Support for Homeless Individuals With Dual Diagnosis Today

We all have a role in supporting each other, including the more vulnerable populations across the UK. If you want to do your bit, then why not reach out to local organisations that provide support to the homeless including volunteering or even advocating for policy changes that address these critical issues? For further education, there are extensive resources and information available online. And don’t forget, if you are struggling with mental health, drug use or homelessness, we can help today.

Simply get in touch about treatment for dual diagnoses, and our trained team will help you to get your life back on track just like we’ve done for so many other people.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: February 15, 2024

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.