Most Homeless People Are Sober, But I Wasn’t

Drugs are one reason why many people end up homeless, but they aren’t the only reason. Photo: Thinkstock

Were you afraid of monsters as a kid? I was too. My parents told me there was no such thing.

Now, I know they were wrong.

Drug addiction is one of the scariest monsters I’ve ever met. It will take everything you care about, and then it will take some more. If you let it, it will even take your life.

It’s not a stretch to believe that drug addiction can lead to homelessness, but the journey may be a little surprising to some.

My story isn’t unusual, but most homeless people are actually sober, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In 2016, the agency estimated that about one in five homeless people also had a substance abuse disorder. That leaves four out of every five homeless people that are sober.

Drugs are one reason why many people end up homeless, but they aren’t the only one.

How Did I Get There?

As I sat in my usual spot under the bridge (cliché, I know), I had a lot of time to reflect on how I got there.

Trevor McDonald

My journey to addiction began with a simple prescription. Looking back, I should have known better. I was depressed and dealing with a ton of emotions. Most days, I barely wanted to get out of bed. I should have known how susceptible I would be to opioid abuse.

Yet I went ahead and filled that prescription anyway. It would ease my pain, caused by a terrible car accident that happened shortly after my 18th birthday. I mistakenly thought I was above all that addiction stuff.

The first few doses were amazing, but it wasn’t long before I needed higher doses to get the same effect. My doctor upped the prescription because I was still in physical pain, but I was also getting addicted.

I don’t know exactly when I became addicted, but I remember the moment I realized I had lost control. It was too late to stop at that point. I could have sought out help, but if I was being honest, I didn’t want to stop.

I’ve talked to a lot of fellow addicts during my time on the streets, and I’ve heard so many similar stories. It doesn’t always start with a prescription—sometimes it’s a street drug—but we all end up in the same place.

A Life Unraveling

Whenever I tell my story, people are always amazed at how easy it is to unravel a seemingly secure life. In truth, it has never stopped surprising me either.

Soon after I lost my free will, I lost my job, money and relationships. The strong bonds are the last to go, which is how I ended up crashing on my best friend’s couch for so long before he realized there was no end in sight.

When he asked me to leave, I was homeless. It was in that moment that I thought I had hit rock bottom. But you’d be surprised at how comfortable you can get on the street as an addict.

The accommodations are terrible, for sure, but you meet a lot of people in your shoes. It’s not that you want to be there, but it becomes your new normal faster than you’d expect.

A Path Out

I realize that I sound self-aware as I’m telling this story now. I wasn’t always that way.

While I was an addict, I blamed everyone. I blamed the doctor for my addiction, my parents for letting it happen, and my friend for kicking me out onto the streets. Now, I have a different perspective. It wasn’t my fault that I got addicted, but no one can shape the course of my life but me.

I had to take responsibility for it all and start making changes. So I did.

The journey from “normal” and well-adjusted to homeless is an extremely humbling one.

And it’s not a journey I’m apt to take again. If you’re living on the streets, it’s time to get help. Talk to friends and family first if that’s an option.

If not, seek help from a local organization. There are many that help homeless people get jobs and housing. The National Coalition for Homeless is a good place to start if you don’t know where else to go.

Trevor McDonald is a freelance writer who lives in San Diego. A recovering addict and alcoholic who has been sober for over five years, he volunteers to help other recovering addicts and spread treatment resources.

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