- Jun 26
Substance misuse is a growing problem among all groups of people, including those with physical or sensory disabilities, such as deafness or blindness. The combination of emotional and physical frustrations impact their lives in ways abled-bodied people will never fully understand, leading some to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.
If you have a physical or sensory disability and find yourself addicted to drugs or alcohol, it can be doubly challenging to get the help you need. While our society has come a long way in terms of inclusivity, many treatment centers remain unable to meet the unique needs of disabled persons.
However, treatment options do exist. If you have a co-occurring disability and addiction, there are accessible treatment services that can meet your specific needs.
How Substance Misuse Impacts Those With Disabilities
Experts debate over how substance misuse truly affects disabled persons. While some studies find addiction rates higher than within abled-bodied populations, other reports show that drug and alcohol misuse among disabled individuals is less prevalent. However, of the nearly 50 million Americans with some form of disability, it’s estimated that 4.7 million adults have a co-occurring substance misuse problem.
While the exact number is not known, health care professionals agree that substance misuse seriously harms the quality of life of those with disabilities. When someone has a co-existing addiction and disability, it:
- Interferes with educational and treatment programs
- Dangerously interacts with prescribed medications
- Hinders muscle control and coordination
- Impairs cognition
- Impacts their self-care
- Contributes to isolation, relationship issues, and poor communication
- Can cause the development of a secondary disabling condition, such as liver disease, or a mental health condition such as depression
- Leads to loss of employment or housing instability
Substance Misuse Risk Factors for People With Disabilities
While substance misuse can impact anyone, no matter their background, people with physical and sensory disabilities have unique risk factors that can contribute to drug misuse or alcohol addiction, including:
- Chronic pain and other medical problems
- Access to prescription pain medications
- Underemployment or unemployment
- Poverty or low socioeconomic level
- Social isolation
- Increased risk of mental illness, such as depression and anxiety
- Lack of access to educational opportunities
- History of physical or sexual misuse
- Enabling by caregivers
- Little exposure to substance abuse prevention education
Barriers to Substance Recovery for Disabled Persons
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires all facilities have some level of accessibility. Yet, despite this, most addiction treatment centers do not have disabled treatment center options.
Physical barriers — such as hallways too narrow for wheelchairs, lack of Braille signs and other navigational features for the visually impaired, uneven flooring, and more — mean that those with physical and sensory disabilities cannot use these facilities.
Other barriers to substance misuse recovery for disabled persons include:
- Lack of education among doctors to spot signs of a substance use disorder
- Fear of losing disability benefits if a disabled person reveals that they struggle with addiction
- Lack of training among addiction counselors on how to work with those who are blind, deaf, or physically disabled
- Inaccessible methods and materials, such as alternatives to sight-based or hearing-based counseling activities
Addiction Recovery for Disabled Persons
Clients with disabilities who also struggle with addiction must receive services for co-existing conditions to ensure a full recovery. Disabilities should not prevent you from receiving treatment.
At Gateway Foundation, we strive for complete inclusivity. Our individualized programs are designed to respond to the unique concerns of those who have physical, sensory, or mental health disabilities. If you need addiction treatment, our highly trained staff takes the time to understand your specific needs to ensure the best level of care. To find out how we can help you, contact us today.