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Is There a Connection between Prostitution and Drug or Alcohol Addiction?

a woman sits up in bed at night thinking about what can derail her sobriety

Drug and alcohol addiction are linked to many crimes, for many reasons. One of these crimes is prostitution. There are several reasons drug use and prostitution are linked, and several ways in which this relationship is continually changing.

Sex Work and Drug Use

Not all sex workers use drugs, and not all people who use drugs turn to sex work to finance their habit. The two aren’t locked together, but they do often overlap. “Street prostitution and street drug markets are often closely linked, supporting and reinforcing one another,” reports The U.S. Department of Justice.

“Many street prostitutes use illegal drugs, mainly methamphetamine, cocaine, or heroin… Some prostitutes develop drug habits before turning to prostitution, while others start using drugs as part of the street prostitution lifestyle.”1 No matter the order, once either sex work or substance use begins, the other becomes more likely and also more difficult to leave behind.


Who Gets Involved in Prostitution and Addiction?

There is no one “type” of person who develops addiction or enters sex work. Life experiences like past trauma and family history may influence a person’s options and susceptibility. A person may be escaping an abusive situation and turn to prostitution as a way out. People start using drugs for similar reasons.

Trauma, abuse, and a desire for mental or physical escape all fuel the problematic substance use that leads to addiction.

Financial struggles, not necessarily stemming from drug use, may pressure other women or men into the sex trade. Sex work may lead others to start drinking or using drugs. Addiction can keep a person trapped in prostitution, and prostitution can keep others trapped in drug use. It’s a challenging cycle to break especially if individuals are forced into one or either practice by pimps, peers or life circumstances.

Drugs, Prostitution and Organized Crime

Sex work and drug use overlap on an individual level. They also overlap within larger organized crime structures. Prostitution, like the illegal drug trade, is big business on the black market, and it has been for some time. Organized crime emerged in its modern form as a result of the prohibition against alcohol in the 1920s.

Mobsters honed their craft importing bootleg liquor into the country. Once prohibition was repealed, organized crime needed new enterprises to finance its continued existence and turned to activities like prostitution, drugs, and gambling. Drug production and sex trafficking started to become even larger, international operations while remaining closely related to each other.

The Internet, Prostitution and Addiction

Sex work has also moved to smaller-scale, closer to home settings. The Internet can act as another channel for drug diversion and arranging prostitution services. These may still be tied to larger criminal groups, but the internet can also be an outlet for women who want to work without a pimp or people who want to get illegal drugs while dealing with fewer middlemen.

The Center on Media Crime and Justice at John Jay College explains, “(Working online) appeals to women who normally may have never entered the field. They can be their own boss, set their own hours. Sometimes they don’t need a pimp, and if they stay at home doing calls they don’t even need drivers.”2

There is obviously a lot of risk involved, but women and men in need of money may find it worth the risk. If drugs are involved, they may barely pause to weigh the pros and cons.

Finding Escape from Prostitution and Drug or Alcohol Addiction

It’s never too late to get help. Recovery can change a person’s future for the better, providing options and outlets that otherwise would never exist. You may feel trapped by addiction, by your lifestyle, or by larger criminal organizations.

Know that there is always hope and help for yourself or a loved one. Reach out to Michael’s House at 760.548.4032 to learn more about breaking free from addiction and free from the lifestyle changes that so often accompany drug or alcohol use.

Alanna Hilbink, Contributing Writer


1 Scott, Michael and Dedel, Kelly. “Street Prostitution.” U.S. Department of Justice. Nov. 2006.

2 “Inside the Shadow World of Internet Prostitution.” Center on Media Crime and Justice at John Jay College. 1 Aug. 2013.