Effect of Social Security Payments on Substance Abuse in a Homeless Mentally Ill Cohort


  • Marc I. Rosen,

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    • Address correspondence to Marc I. Rosen, M.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, VA Connecticut Healthcare System, Department of Psychiatry, 116A, West Haven, CT 06516. Thomas J. McMahon, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry, is with the West Haven Mental Health Center, West Haven, CT. HaiQun Lin, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biostatistics, is with the Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, CT. Robert Rosenheck, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Public Health, is with Yale Medical School, Director of the Division of Mental Health Services and Treatment Outcomes Research in the Yale Department of Psychiatry and Director of the Department of Veterans Affairs Northeast Program Evaluation Center, NEPEC (182), West Haven, CT.

  • Thomas J. McMahon,

  • HaiQun Lin,

  • Robert A. Rosenheck


Objectives. To determine whether receipt of social supplemental security income (SSI) or Social Security disability income (SSDI) disability payments is associated with increased drug and alcohol use.

Data Sources/Study Setting. Secondary analysis of data from 6,199 participants in the Access to Community Care and Effective Social Supports and Services demonstration for the homeless mentally ill.

Design. Observational, 12-month, cohort study completed over 4 years. Substance abuse and other outcomes were compared between the participants who did not receive SSI or SSDI during the 12-month study, those newly awarded benefits, and those without benefits throughout the 12 months.

Data Collection Methods. Social Security administrative records were used to corroborate Social Security benefit status. Drug and alcohol use were measured by self-report and clinician ratings.

Principal Findings. Participants who did not receive benefits significantly reduced their substance use over time. In generalized estimating equations models that adjusted for potentially confounding covariates, participants who newly received Social Security benefits showed no greater drug use than those without benefits but had significantly more days housed and fewer days employed. Participants whose benefits antedated the demonstration and continued during the 12 months had more clinician-rated drug use over time than those without benefits.

Conclusions. In this vulnerable population, participants with newly awarded benefits did not have any different drug use changes than those without benefits, and had relatively more days housed. The hypothesis that Social Security benefits facilitate drug use was not supported by longitudinal data in this high-risk population.