Author: Jonny Thompson

Drug usage occupies a primary role within an addicted mind, and is therefore often prioritised over other crucial needs. One such need is food, yet due to the often-skewed priorities of people struggling with addiction, food insecurity can serve as a major problem for this at-risk population. A synergistic relationship exists between drug usage and food insecurity, with each one exacerbating the other (Anema et. al. 2015). This is due to behavioural and environmental risks associated with drug usage.

A Chaotic Lifestyle

Environmental risks for narcotic addicts include the “increased transmission” of disease, “poor treatment adherence” as addicts rarely follow treatment plans, and an “increased risk of mortality” due to diseases such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis C virus (Anema et. al. 2015). This is particularly apparent with injection drug users (IDUs), who – due to the unclean, shared needles – often suffer from injection-related injuries to skin and veins, violence and victimisation, fatal and non-fatal overdoses and mental health problems (social isolation, depression etc.) (Strike et. al. 2012). Therefore, environmental factors related to chaotic lifestyles such as unstable housing and limited finances exacerbate food insecurity, alongside pre-existing and new health problems (Strike et. al. 2012).

Chemical Consequences

Additionally, there are more fundamental traits of drug usage itself which particularly intensify food insecurity. For IDUs, the rival demands of nutritional intake and addiction are a continuous burden, wherein regular desires for food can be supplanted by drug usage (Romero-Daza et. al. 1999). With harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin reducing the desire for food intake, users can be left with serious health conditions such as eating disorders, impairment of digestion and nutritional absorption problems (Romero-Daza et. al. 1999). Drugs, such as heroin, have the depressant effect of reducing the effects of stimulus, such that the signalling of hunger within the body diminishes during a drug binge (ADF 2018). As a result, the desire to remove the pain of hunger via more heroin usage takes priority, instead of solving the fundamental problems underlying the heroin usage itself (Romero-Daza et. al. 1999).

These behavioural effects, on top of the environmental factors listed earlier prevent healthy consumption of food. One user described this feeling, stating that,

“Once you’re hooked on heroin you cannot function unless you do a bag of dope. When you’re dope sick, you get cold chills, you get sweats, every muscle and bone in your body hurts, you feel so weak you can’t even comb your hair, that’s how weak you feel. It just drains you completely out. You’re getting stomach cramps, diarrhoea, and you’re totally messed up. Once you do a bag of dope it’s just like if nothing ever happened, like nothing in your body hurts anymore, and you can wake up a normal person. But when you’re dope sick, you can’t even move, much less eat or even think about food, you just can’t.”

(Romero-Daza et. al. 1999, 288)

Similarly, cocaine usage, in both powder and rock form, diminishes appetite. Nutritional intake also diminishes the effect of the drug, prompting addicts to avoid consumption or plan meals before a drug binge. One user described this effect:

“If I smoke [cocaine] and I start eating, I don’t feel what I’m supposed to feel. You still get the effect of the ‘caine but not as strong as it could be. It’s like a waste of money, so you’re better off preparing ahead of time. If you see a chance to get some rock [crack] you better eat something before ’cause you know you won’t be eating nothing for a while.”

(Romero-Daza et. al. 1999, 290)

Thus, both environmental and behavioural consequences of drug abuse can play a crucial role in exacerbating food insecurity, which simultaneously exacerbates drug usage due to the cognitive and physical effects of hunger.


ADF (2018). ” Drug Facts – Heroin”. ADF – Alcohol & Drug Foundation. At

Anema, Aranka, Divya Mehra, Sheri Weiser, Nils Grede, Nicholas Vogenthaler & Thomas Kerr (2015). “Drivers and Consequences of Food Insecurity Among Illicit Drug Users”. Health of HIV Infected People: 359-385.

Romero‐Daza, Nancy, David A. Himmelgreen, Rafael Pérez‐Escamilla, Sofia Segura‐Millán & Merrill Singer (1999). “Food Habits of Drug‐Using Puerto Rican Women In Inner‐City Hartford”. Medical Anthropology 18(3): 281-298.

Strike, Carol, Katherine Rudzinski, Jessica Patterson & Margaret Millson (2012). “Frequent Food Insecurity Among Injection Drug Users: Correlates and Concerns”. BMC Public Health 12(1).

What is the Relation between Drug Use and Food Insecurity?

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