Welfare Receipt and Substance-Abuse Treatment Among Low-Income Mothers

In this study, the authors explored changing relations between substance use, welfare receipt and substance-abuse treatment among low-income mothers before and after welfare reform. Annual data were examined from mothers aged 18 to 49 years in the 1990–2001 National Household Survey of Drug Abuse and the 2002 National Survey of Drug Use and Health. Logistic regression was used to examine determinants of treatment receipt.

The study found that among low-income, substance-using mothers, the proportion receiving cash assistance declined from 54 percent in 1996 to 38 percent in 2001. The decline was much smaller (37% to 31%) among low-income mothers who did not use illicit substances. Low-income, substance-using mothers who received cash assistance were much more likely than other low-income, substance-using mothers to receive treatment services. Among 2002 National Survey of Drug Use and Health respondents deemed "in need" of substance-abuse treatment, welfare recipients were significantly more likely than nonrecipients to receive such services (adjusted odds ratio=2.31; P<.05). Controlling for other factors, welfare receipt was associated with higher prevalence of illicit drug use. Such use declined among both welfare recipients and other mothers between 1990 and 2001.

The authors conclude that welfare is a major access point to identify and serve low-income mothers with substance-use disorders, but it reaches a smaller proportion of illicit drug users than it did prereform. Declining welfare receipt among low-income mothers with substance abuse disorders poses a new challenge in serving this population.