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Los Angeles’ Addiction Epidemic is Creating a Permanent Underclass

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Table of Contents

Busy Road near sober living in California

In many ways, Los Angeles seems like a glamorous city. Not only is it the home of rich and famous celebrities, but it is home to major industries, ranging from media companies to technology start-ups. Los Angeles’ glitz and glamour is unmistakable, and people regularly travel to visit from all over the world to get a piece of the action.

However, Los Angeles’ culture of excess has a dark side. The Los Angeles addiction epidemic is disenfranchising much of the population. 

Much of this isn’t obvious. While media-fueled stereotypes of addiction often lead people to believe that addicts are people who are homeless, deranged, violent, or criminal, the fact is that many of the rich and famous people in LA who embody glamour suffer from debilitating addictions. 

On the other side of the spectrum, the less financially well-off Angelenos with substance use disorders are often hidden away. Unfortunately, the city of Los Angeles is intent on preserving its image. Instead of treating the people who most need help, city policy thus far has been limited to sequestering sufferers away and out of sight.

Long Term Consequences of Addiction

Substance abuse harms a person’s ability to function in everyday life. Individuals who develop dependence and addiction ultimately come to prioritize drug seeking behavior over all other interests. As a result, many people with substance use disorders experience difficulty keeping their families together. 

Rates of divorce and loss of child custody are higher than normal among people with substance use disorders. Unfortunately addiction, as a “disease of isolation,” is more common among people with weaker social support groups. As a result, the interpersonal damage that substance abuse inflicts is likely in the end to perpetuate the very same cycle.

Family, however, is not the only structure that addiction damages. People with addiction are more likely to have problems at school or work, with a significantly higher chance of being fired or experiencing income stagnation. 

Due to the illegal nature of most substance abuse — and the illegal behavior that inebriation itself often leads to — criminal and legal consequences are far more likely as well. The result is that many people with substance use disorders are at risk of being alone, racked by debt and legal problems, and absolutely destitute.

While poverty is a noted risk factor that can affect a person’s likelihood of abusing substances, it is in some ways more illuminating to note that substance abuse itself has been shown to lead to poverty.

 Purchasing drugs is itself financially draining, and addiction encourages people to spend beyond on their means. Furthermore, the consequences of addiction, which include problems with employment and the law, tend to exacerbate financial problems.

 In the absence of proper treatment programs that address Los Angeles’ addiction problems, greater and greater portions of the population will continue to fall below the poverty line.

Los Angeles Addiction Epidemic and Homelessness

When people are unable to pay their bills or function in everyday life due to addiction, they frequently end up homeless. Unfortunately, substance abuse is often a temporarily helpful coping mechanism for this dire situation. 

As such, people who are driven out of their homes due to addiction often find it more difficult to return to housing. Successful recovery from addiction is most likely to occur when people have strong social support systems, and homelessness tends to shrink social networks and reduce access to essential resources. 

Homelessness and addiction are self-perpetuating cycles from which it can be difficult to escape.

Skid Row, a Los Angeles neighborhood with one of the highest concentrations of homeless individuals in the United States, is home to roughly 4757 people. Because Los Angeles addiction epidemic — and the opioid crisis in particular — continues to drive more and more people into homelessness, the population of Skid Row increased by 11% between 2018 and 2019.

 Unfortunately, rather than providing help for homeless residents who suffer from significant addiction and mental health problems, city policy thus far as revolved around more punitive measures. Police crackdowns on crime are frequent, while access to beds, food, and addiction treatment centers is scarce.

 Municipal authorities have designated Skid Row a living area for the homeless, often sending homeless individuals from other parts of the city over the Skid Row. While these policies may preserve an image of Los Angeles as a clean and glamorous city, it prevents a significant portion of the population from recovering from poverty and addiction.

Getting Help

If you suffer from addiction and financial problems , you should not give up hope. A variety of treatment centers exist that are willing to discuss your unique financial circumstances with you. Many treatment programs even offer payment plans and other special arrangements. It is important to choose a treatment program that meets all of your needs. 

Design for Recovery, a structured sober living in West Los Angeles, California, offers sober housing for young men. If addiction has devastated your life, Design for Recovery offers a means for rebuilding it — as well as helping to avoid relapse. 

At Design for Recovery, we understand that merely abstaining from drugs and alcohol is rarely sufficient. Residents work to develop connections with others, find employment, and take steps toward their life goals. Even if you have lost all hope, at Design for Recovery you will come to believe that your experiences of addiction have meaning and can be used to help others. It’s not only possible for you to get sober, it’s possible to stay sober — and to live the rest of your life in freedom and prosperity


Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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