It is common knowledge that poverty and substance abuse tend to exist in tandem. The direction of causation is unclear, but the link between addiction and poverty is certainly to be considered.
A study by the National Bureau for Economic Research studied the relationship between poverty and drug abuse, specifically marijuana and cocaine. The study found that there was a positive relationship between poverty and substance abuse, even when controlling for various familial factors—implying that substance abuse may even be a casual factor of poverty. A limitation of the study was that it could not account for the drug usage of the homeless and others, which further strengthened the case that drug usage may be a causal factor of poverty.
And yet, it still isn’t that simple. The study had other limitations. The drug usage was self-reported, the population studied was highly bias (mostly poor already), and assumptions on preferences and educational effects (among others) could not be proved. Nonetheless, it seems that there is a definitive relationship between drugs and poverty, and perhaps even some causal effect.
But could the causal effect also run the other way? Quite possibly. A study from Duke University found that economically stressed children later in life experienced higher rates of tobacco usage (but not binge drinking or marijuana). The researchers attributed this effect to poverty’s impact on self-control. Although the study did not find increases in marijuana usage or other drugs, the causal chain between poverty and eventual drug usage was established.
Although evidence seems to suggest that, to some degree, drug usage can “cause” poverty, extending this logic to an extreme would be absurd. Substance abuse is not the sole driving force behind the worldwide phenomena of poverty; people born into poverty cannot have been driven to poverty by drug usage. There must be more to explain the relationship that clearly exists.
Another research paper suggests that literacy, education, poverty, income equality and unemployment are factors that lead to drug abuse, further complicating the relationship.
Conflicting papers do lead to an obvious but important point. Poverty and addiction are interlinked. Conjoined at the hip, both issues feed off each other and their effects strengthen their respective feedback loops. Poverty leads to mental states which can lead to drug abuse which leads to addiction, which begets crime, which leads to worse employment prospects. A flow diagram to show the effects and directions that these two conditions could lead to would be a huge circular mess, with arrows flying in all directions.
The question then becomes, how does a government fight poverty or substance abuse? Based on existing evidence, perhaps the best answer is that one problem cannot be adequately addressed without also attending to the other.
– Martin Yim