Drug use disorders and treatment contact among homeless adults in Alameda County, California

Marjorie J. Robertson, Cheryl Zlotnick, Alex Westerfelt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives. This study estimates the extent and distribution of specific drug problems among homeless adults. Methods. A countywide probability sample of 564 homeless adults received structured interviews that included a standardized assessment of substance use disorders. Results. Two thirds of the sample (69.1%) had a lifetime history of a substance use disorder (including abuse of or dependence on alcohol [52.6%] or drugs [52.2%]); half had a current (52.4%) substance use disorder (including alcohol [38.8%] or drugs [31.3%]). Current drug disorders were higher among respondents who were younger, homeless longer, or sampled from the city of Oakland, Calif. Alcohol use disorders were higher among men than among women; surprisingly, drug use disorders were not. Conclusion. Rates of current drug use disorders for homeless adults were more than eight times higher than general population estimates. However, estimates of drug problems among homeless adults vary as a function of case ascertainment and sampling strategy. Estimates based only on samples from urban areas may overestimate drug problems among the area's larger homeless populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-228
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Public Health
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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