How common are substance abuse disorders among persons with disabilities? According to the Office of Disability, 10 percent of adults in the general population are affected by alcohol, and 5 percent have problems with drugs. By comparison:
- People with disabilities experience drug or alcohol problems at two to four times the rate of the general populace.
- People who are deaf or who suffer from arthritis or multiple sclerosis are twice as likely as the general population to develop a drug or alcohol problem.
- Forty to 50 percent of people with spinal cord injuries, amputations, orthopedic disabilities or impaired vision who use alcohol can be classified as heavy drinkers.
- At least 50 percent of disabled individuals with mental illness, traumatic brain injuries or spinal cord injuries abuse drugs of alcohol.
The Office of Disability also notes that there are differences in the rates of substance abuse based on the nature of the disability. People with traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries have a substantially higher risk of getting addicted to drugs or alcohol. People with developmental disabilities tend to have the lowest risk of substance abuse.
For those who make it successfully through a drug or alcohol treatment program, many of the disabled experience multiple relapses and don’t achieve long-term recovery. The continued frustrations of trying to access treatment services keep many of the handicapped from staying clean and sober. Getting reintegrated into the community after drug and alcohol rehab can also be more difficult for a disabled person, who may not be able to find meaningful work or maintain strong relationships with sober friends.
Obstacles to Recovery
As if it weren’t hard enough for a person with no disabilities to recover from substance abuse, the disabled have to overcome a number of obstacles just to get into treatment. From prevention to treatment, persons with disabilities are at a disadvantage, notes the Office of Disability:
- Educational materials about drug and alcohol abuse may not be accessible to people with visual disabilities.
- Informational pamphlets and brochures may be written at a reading level that’s too high for someone with a learning disability.
- Substance abuse prevention materials typically display examples of people who don’t have disabilities, which creates the impression that persons with disabilities aren’t at risk.
- For disabled persons who don’t drive, treatment centers may be located too far from home for easy access on public transportation.
- Community self-help group meetings may be held in buildings that aren’t accessible to people with limited mobility.
- Social insensitivity may discourage the disabled from taking part in group therapy with non-disabled individuals.
When it comes to clinical research on substance abuse, people who have disabilities are often left out of clinical studies, unless the study specifically targets persons with disabilities. On almost every level of substance abuse prevention and treatment, resources for persons with disabilities currently fall short of their needs.
Teaching Addiction Counselors to Help the Persons with Disabilities
Providing individual or group counseling for persons with disabilities requires sensitivity to the needs and limitations of this population, states Counselor Magazine (http://www.counselormagazine.com/). Addiction professionals who work with the disabled must be aware of the physical and cognitive challenges they face and must learn to integrate these challenges into treatment.