Primary Sources: What Do Homeless Youth Think About Substance Abuse?

Photograph of two young adults on the street.

Homeless, Street-Involved Emerging Adults: Attitudes Toward Substance Use” (abstract), Journal of Adolescent Research, Volume 25, Number 2, March 2010.

What it's about: This study looks at attitudes toward alcohol and drugs among homeless youth who abuse substances. The authors surveyed and interviewed 87 young people between the ages of 18 and 23 who came to a Texas drop-in center. 

Why read it: While studies have shown that a high proportion of homeless youth abuse drugs and alcohol, few researchers have explored what these young people think about their drug use and the impact—for better or for worse—it has on their lives. The authors examine the pros and cons, as young people see it, of substance abuse, both now and for the future. Many of the young people viewed substance use in a positive light; however, many also recognized the benefits of a life without drugs or alcohol.

Biggest take away for youth workers:  Understanding homeless youths' attitudes toward their substance abuse – they view it much differently than do most youth workers – may help those who work with them find more effective ways to stop, or reduce, their drinking and drug use, the authors write. Given the brief time youth spend in drop-in centers, they say, attempts to change youth’s behavior must be creative, concise and tailored to individual young people. Brevity doesn’t have to reduce effectiveness. An earlier study found that one session of brief motivational interviewing, a counseling style that enables clients to bridge the gap between how they are living and how they would like to live, decreased drinking just as well as a six-week residential program.

Additional reference: Brief motivational interviewing is included in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices. You can learn more about the practice and strategies for using it effectively from SAMHSA’s Homelessness Resource Center, at the Mid-Atlantic Addiction Technology Transfer Center's motivational interviewing website, or by watching the video below, which shows a short conversation between the leader of HealthScience Institute and a health professor at Oregon Health Sciences University:

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