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What are Social Determinants of Health?

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Social determinants of health (SDOH) refer to the conditions of the environment in which an individual lives and works, and which they rely on to meet essential needs like education, employment, access to healthcare services — including medical, behavioral, and mental health — and more. SDOH can be thought of as “non-medical” factors that ultimately impact health outcomes.

SDOH can be tangible, like water quality in a polluted area, or intangible, such as discrimination based on race, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, religion, or disability.

Keep reading to learn more about Social Determinants of Health and how they can impact SUD.

If you or someone you love needs help with substance use and co-occurring disorders, please call Gaudenzia’s 24-hour Treatment and Referral HelpLine at 833.976.HELP (4357) or email [email protected] today

Social Determinants of Health (SDOH)

While SDOH can fall into many categories, this post will focus on the five priority areas identified by Healthy People 2030. As defined by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, the Healthy People 2030 initiative “sets data-driven national objectives to improve health and well-being over the next decade.”

Healthy People 2030 breaks SDOH down into five key categories, namely: economic stability, education access and quality, healthcare access and quality, neighborhood and built environment, and social and community context. As we discuss each, it will become apparent how positive or negative changes in any one category can impact one or more of the others.

Let’s look at each of the five key SDOH as outlined by Healthy People 2030:

Economic Stability

Economic stability impacts an individual or family’s ability to afford necessities like nutritious foods, housing, and healthcare. Access to steady employment decreases the likelihood of living in poverty and is associated with better overall health. Injuries, disabilities, or chronic conditions may make it difficult to find and maintain a job, while some individuals with steady employment still struggle to meet their basic needs.

Economic stability can increase when people have access to childcare, career counseling, and employment programs. Policies that improve access to affordable housing, education, health care, and food security can help reduce poverty and improve health.

Education Access and Quality

Research shows that higher levels of education correlate with better health and longevity. Children and adolescents from low-income families, those with disabilities, and those who experience social discrimination are more likely to struggle academically, and less likely to graduate high school or attend college. This impacts access to stable, high-paying employment, which can reduce economic stability. In some situations, families live in school districts with schools that perform poorly overall, and many cannot afford to send their children to college.

Policies, programs, and interventions that identify and help children and adolescents improve their academic performance and help fund college attendance can have major long-term benefits on health and well-being.

Health Care Access and Quality

A staggering number of people in the United States do not receive the healthcare they need. While many barriers to accessing healthcare exist, data from the CDC’s National Health Statistics Reports shows that 1 out of 10 Americans — roughly 31.6 million people — do not have health insurance coverage. The Healthy People 2030 initiative emphasizes the importance of preventative care and evidence-based treatment for chronic illnesses or disorders, including substance use disorders. It also outlines low-barrier access and programs that promote equity in healthcare as key national objectives to improve individual, family, and community health.  

Neighborhood and Built Environment

Neighborhoods with high incidence of stressors like violence, crime, physical health hazards, environmental pollution, and unsafe infrastructure can have a detrimental impact on the physical and mental health of its residents, workforce, and other community stakeholders. Racial/ethnic minorities and individuals with low incomes are more likely to live in communities that face these types of risks, making these populations more vulnerable to changes in regulatory policies — or the lack thereof.  

Policies to make such areas safer, such as environmental laws to regulate pollution, improvements in infrastructure, and better access to safe public transportation and social services can improve living and working conditions for community members at risk of being disproportionately impacted by neighborhood and built environment stressors.

Social and Community Context

Access to social support — or a lack thereof —can impact the health and safety of community members. Challenges like stigma, discrimination, or a lack of social resources can make it more difficult for individuals to seek out healthcare or treatment for chronic conditions like substance use disorders (SUDs). As an example, a parenting woman with an SUD who lacks social support with childcare may be less likely to seek out or enter SUD treatment out of fear of child separation, stigma, or discrimination. Gaudenzia is proud to address this particular need with our specialized addiction treatment programs for women, pregnant women, and women with children, which allow women to bring their children with them into treatment.

Social Determinants of Health and SUD

Research shows that SDOH can significantly impact the risk factors associated with SUDs. Social and economic factors may indirectly impact the health of people who use drugs (PWUD) by influencing individual drug use behavior and increasing risk factors for co-occurring mental health conditions like anxiety or depression. SDOH may directly impact the health of PWUD by affecting access to — and the availability of — equitable healthcare, treatment resources, and access to social welfare systems and support services. To treat SUDs more effectively, it is imperative that treatment providers offer a comprehensive continuum of care that helps address and improve SDOH in our communities.  

Trauma-Informed Care

SUD Treatment at Gaudenzia

Gaudenzia is proud to offer a full continuum of treatment for substance use and co-occurring disorders, with wrap-around services to address the complex needs of the populations we serve. Our treatment model is evidence-based and person-centered, incorporating care that is trauma-informed, gender-responsive, and culturally responsive. We accept clients with Medicaid and will always work with individuals and families to find a treatment plan that works, regardless of ability to pay.

Our services include:

  • Detox and Withdrawal Management Treatment Programs
  • Residential Treatment Programs
  • Low-Intensity Residential Treatment/Halfway House Accommodations
  • Men’s Treatment Programs
  • Pregnant and Parenting Women’s Treatment Programs
  • Intensive Outpatient (IOP) and Outpatient (OP) Treatment Programs
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
  • Recovery Support Services
  • Criminal Justice Services  
  • Prevention Services

If you or someone you love needs help with addiction treatment, please contact our 24-hour Treatment and Referral HelpLine at 833.976.HELP (4357) or email [email protected] today.

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