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Drug And Alcohol Rehab Programs For Disabled Individuals

Debra Wallace, MA.Ed, LPCC-S, LICDC-CS

Medically reviewed by

Debra Wallace, MA.Ed, LPCC-S, LICDC-CS

March 18, 2019

Disabled people often have a hard road to travel in life and addiction will only make that path that much more difficult. The sad truth is that addiction is a major problem in this community, impacting people with physical, emotional, and cognitive disabilities in increasingly severe ways. Understanding addiction and knowing that there are specialized programs available can help an individual get the treatment they need.

That’s why we all need to understand as much as we can about drug and alcohol rehab programs for disabled individuals. We also need to immerse ourselves in the reality of addiction for disabled people, including how it impacts their lives, risk factors that increase their chances of addiction, treatment barriers that may hurt their recovery, and ways to get around those barriers.

In this way, we or our affected loved ones can recover from addiction positively. It can help clear our minds and our bodies of the negative influence of addiction and give us the clarity we need to focus on living our lives and managing the symptoms of disability constructively.

Addiction Hits People With Disabilities Hard

People with disabilities, whether they be physical, emotional, or cognitive suffer harder when addiction strikes them than people without addiction. There are a variety of reasons that addiction is so problematic for them, not the least of which is the way it interferes with their disability rehabilitation and treatment. For example, a person with a physical movement disability based on a spinal injury may need to take regular pain medications and practice movement in order to stay active.

However, addiction may cause negative reactions with their medication that put their health and safety at risk. Such medication interactions are going to, minimally, cause some form of nausea and sickness. Unfortunately, they may also cause a myriad of severe problems, including death. Even if addiction doesn’t interfere with their medication, it may reduce their reaction speed and their muscle strength, further worsening their disability.

Even for people without physical disabilities, addiction is problematic. Those with emotional disabilities may find their imbalance growing even worse, leading to increased symptom severity. For example, a bipolar person may find that their emotional cycle is increased in speed, throwing their life out of balance. People with cognitive disabilities may have it the worst of all. Addiction will make it even more difficult for them to think straight, leading to worsened decision-making and problematic behaviors.

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All of these problems are likely to cause an increase in social isolation and a worsened economic situation. While people with disabilities can be positive and contributing members to the economy, their career options are often limited. Someone with physical disabilities may be limited in the types of jobs they can perform, while people with cognitive disabilities may only be able to handle relatively simple jobs.

Losing jobs through addiction can put people with disabilities on a negative economic spiral. It may cause them to lose their health insurance, lose access to transportation and could even make them homeless. Treating their disabilities is often a primary focus, and without a regular source of income, their symptoms can worsen. Sadly, this may only compel the person to use drugs at a higher rate.

Sadly, The Statistics Are Troubling

There are a variety of frightening statistics that show just how heavily the disabled segment of society is impacted by addiction. Though many of these statistics are hard to gauge and conflicting due to different reporting methods, all of them indicate that people with disabilities struggle from addiction at a high rate. For example, one study found that about 25 percent of all people with disabilities may suffer from substance abuse: that’s one in every four persons.

People with physical disabilities seemed to be the ones impacted most heavily by addiction. For example, it was found that 50 percent of all people with spinal cord or traumatic brain injuries also suffered from addiction. People with other physical disabilities, such as severe arthritis, were often struggling under addiction rates of 20 to 30 percent. It’s hard to imagine this kind of substance abuse impact on such a small segment of the population, but the reality of it is stunning.

That said, people with emotional disabilities suffered from addiction at a high rate as well. Of the 33.2 million people diagnosed with a mental illness, about 47 percent suffered from a substance use disorder. Gauging the rate of addiction among those with cognitive or intellectual disorders is more difficult. For example, some studies claim that just under three percent of them suffer from addiction, while in other studies the rate skyrockets to 26 percent.

The reasons for these varying rates include how the studies checked with different groups in different parts of the nation, as well as differing methodologies and study focuses. However, even three percent is a high number, especially when this group takes up such a small portion of the American population. The worst part about all these high numbers is that they show a large group of people suffering from addiction who may also struggle to get proper treatment.

Risk Factors That Contribute To Increased Drug Use

Why is addiction so prevalent in people with disabilities? It’s hard to draw any singular conclusion from the vastly differing circumstances that fuel the lives of people with disabilities. However, there are several common risk factors that may influence a higher rate of addiction. Understanding these risk factors can help you identify any that contribute to your addiction and find ways to eliminate them from your life. These risk factors include:

  • Severe physical pain
  • Mental imbalances
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Isolation from a strong social group
  • Unemployment and boredom
  • Easy access to pain medications which may be addictive
  • Enabling behaviors by caring, but misguided, caregivers
  • Negative history of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Family history of addiction

Dealing with these risk factors is difficult because so many of them are ingrained in a person’s life. For example, a person with physical disabilities may need potentially addictive painkillers to live a comfortable life. Taking them from them will increase the potency of their suffering and perhaps do more harm than good. However, you simply can’t let them suffer from addiction.

Other problems, such as unemployment and isolation, can be fixed relatively easily. For example, the person could find a new job and a social group in town in which they can interact. However, the best way to get a person with disabilities off of drugs is to have them attend a rehabilitation center. They will identify the source of their addiction and find a way to get rid of it. However, some barriers may make it more difficult for them to get the treatment they deserve.

Difficult Treatment Barriers For Those With Disabilities

Treatment barriers are problems that make addiction recovery more difficult for those with disabilities. These problems are sometimes experienced in rehab, but are typically found outside of rehab. Many of them are based on misunderstandings of disabled people or unpreparedness. Whatever the barrier and its cause, they force too many people with disabilities to avoid rehab and to stay in a life of addiction.

The following are just a small sample of the problems a disabled person may experience in treatment. As mentioned above, some of them may occur in rehab, but highly trained drug recovery professionals are empathetic and caring individuals that will accept anyone with disabilities and do what they can to help them recover from addiction. Here are the most common treatment barriers you’re likely to experience:

  • Attitudinal barriers – People often misunderstand or mislabel people with disabilities, treating them in ways that are inappropriate or unhelpful. For example, they may think that people with disabilities should receive the same treatment as those without or may be harsh and judgmental of people with certain types of disabilities. This can make it hard for people with disabilities to have a positive healing environment and support group.
  • Discrimination – While drug rehab centers don’t discriminate against those who have disabilities, other people in their life may. For example, a doctor may not suggest rehab as a viable treatment solution for someone who is bipolar, simply because they feel bipolar people can’t benefit from it, which is untrue. As a result, that person’s insurance may not cover rehab, forcing them to find another way to pay.
  • Problems with communication – Those with mental health disorders may struggle to communicate their needs constructively. Likewise, people with cognitive disabilities may not know exactly how to express their problem or how to communicate with a counselor, setting their treatment back and making it more difficult. Even people with physical disabilities may have troubles, such as deaf people, blind people, those who have trouble speaking, people with stutters, or even those with slow speaking patterns.
  • Physical barriers – A growing number of rehab centers are fixing their centers to make them more accessible to those with disabilities. However, many lack appropriate items, such as elevators, ramps, and easy-open door knobs. They may also lack blind safety tools, such as guard rails and braille reading items.

Passing by these barriers is a process that requires a focused approach and a caring individualized treatment method. It means beating the negative stigma that surrounds people with disabilities, finding a treatment center that lacks physical barriers, and finding a positive communication method. Though this will be a challenging task, it’s one that must be completed.

The Solution To These Problems

There are two different potential solutions to the above problems: mainstreaming and specialized services. Mainstreaming refers to the act of adjusting treatment centers to allow people with disabilities to get access to the same treatment as non-disabled people. This often includes adding easy-access items, new counselors who understand disabilities, and communication experts who can reach out to people who suffer from communication problems.

Specialized services offer treatment benefits that are tuned to just the person with that disability. For example, people who are deaf often do well in an addiction recovery treatment atmosphere that includes other deaf people. This makes it easier for them to communicate with others and create a positive support group. People with severe emotional disorders also do well with specialized treatment that focused on treating those problems and their addiction concurrently.

How do you choose between these options? It depends on the needs of the person who is recovering from addiction. For example, people with cognitive disorders often do best grouped in a specialized environment that takes their unique needs into account. By contrast, they may also do well in a mainstreamed environment where they can turn to people without cognitive disabilities as a positive role model.

In many ways, it depends on the severity of the disability. Somebody who suffers from debilitating, but treatable, arthritis is likely to do well in a mainstreamed environment that offers appropriate pain treatment. However, somebody with a spinal cord injury that limits their movement is likely to need specialized care.

Understand Your Options And Your Rights

If you or someone you know is a disabled person suffering from addiction, you need to understand that you have the same treatment rights as anyone else. You don’t have to live a life of addiction due to your disability, but should instead strive to beat addiction and become a healthy and happy person once again. That’s why you need a recovery information source you can trust.

Let us be that source. At, we have access to vast resources of information that can help you make informed and positive decisions on addiction recovery. We can not only offer you a communication route to a rehab center, but can also help you sort through the facts and misconceptions about recovery that may be impacting your treatment. So please contact us today and get ready to change your life forever.

U.S. Commission On Civil Rights - Sharing the Dream: Is The ADA Accommodating All?

Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration - Substance Use Disorders In People With Physical And Sensory Disabilities

Disabled WorldDisabled World – Substance Abuse And Persons With Disabilities - Substance Abuse And Persons With Disabilities

National Center For Biotechmology Information - Substance Use Disorder Treatment For People With Physical and Cognitive Disabilities

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