Homeless Youth Interventions

Alcohol and drug abuse is common in the young adult homeless population

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) When homeless youths use drugs and alcohol—they are at much higher risks for associated health problems. Nurse-led interventions may be a cost-effective way to encourage sobriety.

A recent study had 154 homeless young adults participate in either a nurse-led education program or an artist-led therapy/education program. Results found reduction in drug and alcohol abuse for participants.

"Reach out for help if you are having problems."

Adey Nyamathi, ANP, PhD, associate dean for international research and scholarly activities in the School of Nursing at the University of California at Los Angeles, was the lead researcher for the study.

Dr. Nyamathi said, “Homeless youth often justify their use of drugs because of the need to stay awake at night to avoid getting mugged because they are ‘self-medicating’ to quell (supress) the voices in their head, or because of the need to cope with the stress of life.”

“But the sad truth is that once substance abuse use is entrenched (habitual), drugs begin to dominate all aspects of homeless youths’ lives. We must put programs in place that break this vicious cycle.”

For the study, 154 homeless young adults in Santa Monica, California, were involved in one of two drop-in programs designed to reduce drug use and binge drinking.

The first program was led by nurses and focused on HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis Health Promotion (HHP). The nurses lectured on several aspects of healthy living, such as, vaccinations, sexually transmitted diseases and making healthier lifestyle choices.

The second program was an Art Messaging (AM) program led by artists including faculty from the California Institute for the Arts. The artists helped the homeless youths express their experiences and feelings through photography and other mediums.

At a six-month follow-up, the nurse-led program attendees reported:

  • 15 percent reduction in cocaine use
  • 18 percent reduction in methamphetamines use
  • 21 percent reduction in hallucinogen use
  • 25 percent reduction in alcohol consumption
  • 17 percent reduction in marijuana use

At the six-month follow-up, the artists-led program attendees reported:

  • 25 percent reduction in alcohol consumption
  • 20 percent reduction in marijuana use

Dr. Nyamathi said, “These results are very promising, as reducing alcohol and drug abuse in any population is very difficult.”

It should be noted that only 100 of the original 154 participated in the six-month follow-up.

This study was published in September in The American Journal on Addictions.

Funding for this study was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 9, 2012
Last Updated:
October 10, 2012