Disabilities Guide to Substance Abuse

by | Last updated Jul 24, 2023 | Published on Jul 17, 2019 | Specialized | 0 comments

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Disabilities and substance abuse are strongly linked. Nearly 1 in 5 American struggled with a disability in 2010. At this current time, a lot more Americans may have a disability. Studies show that the number and percentage of Americans who struggled with a severe disability has risen in the past.

Substance abuse among individuals with a disability is quite high. In fact, people with disabilities are 2 to 4 times more likely to struggle with substance abuse than the general population. Those with a severe disability are much more likely to abuse illicit drugs. Commonly abused illegal drugs include heroincocaine and methamphetamine.

Substance abuse is so prevalent among disabled individuals that there are now substance abuse prevention programs that target this specific demographic. These individuals also have the least amount of access to substance abuse treatment programs. It’s not easy for them to get a diagnosis. It’s even more difficult for them to get help.

This guide will look at the link between drug and alcohol addiction and disabilities. It will also explore the different types of disabilities that are out there.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a type of disability and a substance use disorder, it’s time to look for addiction resources that can help. Find an addiction treatment program that works or a rehab facility with the accommodations that are needed.

Substance Use Rates Among Specific Disability Populations

Studies have found that those with a disability are statistically more likely to abuse many types of substances. The only exception to this is alcohol abuse. Let’s take a look at some of the substance use rates, statistics and trends among specific disability populations. People with disabilities are:

  • 4.72 times more likely to abuse heroin
  • 3.02 times more likely to abuse or misuse sedative
  • 3.01 times more likely to abuse oxycodone
  • 2.63 times more likely to have an addiction to methamphetamine
  • 2.60 times more likely to abuse crack cocaine
  • 2.19 times more likely to misuse powder cocaine
  • 2.04 times more likely to abuse tranquilizers
  • 1.65 times more likely to have an analgesics addiction
  • 1.64 times more likely to abuse stimulants
  • 1.63 times more likely to abuse psychotherapeutics

It’s clear that drug addiction is a huge problem among the disabled. It’s hard to contest this fact.

Since substance abuse among people with disabilities is more prevalent than among the general population, a key way to keep addiction rates low is to create accessible, targeted substance abuse prevention programs. Drug recovery centers should have specialized treatment programs. This will help keep addiction rates low.

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How Are Disabilities Linked To Substance Abuse And Addiction?

Many disabled people have some form of drug addiction. Among those who have a spinal cord injury, a traumatic brain injury or a form of mental illness, the prevalence of addiction can exceed 50%. This is shocking when compared with the 10% of the general population that abuses drugs and alcohol.

So, why are the disabled more likely to engage in substance abuse? There are a couple of ways that substance abuse and disabilities are linked.

For one, many disabled individuals have very little education on how to prevent a substance use disorder. This means that they are ill-equipped to handle:

  • Peer pressure
  • Temptations
  • Concerns related to self-medication

Those who are disabled are also more likely to self-medicate. If they are in pain, they may rely on opioids to make them feel more comfortable. Drugs or alcohol are a way of coping with their disability.

It’s also unfortunate, but many people are also more accepting of addiction among the disabled. They may not see the addiction as harmful. Instead, they may believe that the disabled individual may need the drugs to cope with their situation.

Those who are disabled also tend to have less of a social life. Substance abuse can be a way of escaping loneliness or isolation.

Co-Occurring Disorders Among The Disabled

Much like non-disabled individuals, disabled individuals are likely to struggle with a co-occurring disorder. This is also known as a dual diagnosis. Dual diagnosis treatment can help these individuals get sober and clean.

The reason why co-occurring disorders are so common is because disabilities can easily lead to a mental health disorder. It’s easy for those with a disability to feel depressed or anxious. This type of mental state can affect a person’s neurochemical levels. When chemical levels in the brain fluctuate, the affected individual will feel a whole range of emotions and symptoms.

To return neurochemical levels back to normal, these individuals may be interested in abusing drugs or alcohol. This may provide them with some temporary relief. Unfortunately, this need for relief can result in long-term abuse.

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Can Substance Abuse Cause A Disability?

Addiction, itself, can be considered as a disability. Other types of disabilities can also cause an addiction.

So, can it be the other way around? Can substance abuse cause a disability?

The abuse of drugs and alcohol can result in a disability. Here are some examples:

  • Pregnant women who consume drugs or alcohol can cause their babies to develop fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). These disorders can cause physical or intellectual disabilities in the baby.
  • Alcohol or drug intoxication can also cause traumatic brain injuries. For example, a person who suffers a terrible fall while drunk may be unable to protect himself or herself. If he or she fall on his or her head, he or she can get a concussion. The fall can also result in a traumatic brain injury.
  • Addiction can also worsen a mental illness, like depression. Substance abuse can cause significant neurochemical changes in the brain.

Those who struggle with a disability may find their symptoms worsening if they abuse alcohol or drugs. They can also develop additional disabilities that worsen their condition.

Disability Risk Factors that Increase the Odds of Addiction

Risk factors increase a person’s chances of falling victim to addiction. These factors can be due to a lot of different things. Together, they can substance abuse among individuals with a disability to rise.

Those with a disability will usually have a higher tendency for possessing the following risk factors:

  • Academic difficulties and problems
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Chronic or persistent pain
  • Chronic, severe and persistent health or medical illnesses
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Enablement from loved ones or caregivers
  • Limited education
  • Lower socioeconomic status
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Social isolation and loneliness
  • Trauma
  • Unemployment
  • Use of prescription drugs, especially pain relievers

Many addiction specialists consider the disability themselves as a risk factor. The same can be said for mental health conditions and illnesses. Those with more than one disability may also have an increased risk of addiction.

Just because a person has one or more risk factors, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will develop an addiction. It only means that they have a higher chance of falling victim to a substance use disorder.

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Understanding the Different Types of Disabilities

Disabilities are impairments that interfere with one or more major components in a person’s life. The affected individual will be unable to do certain tasks. His or her mental state may also be affected.

Some people are born with disabilities. Other people become disabled through an injury or disease. The severity of the disability can remain unchanged or even progressively worsen over time. At times, a disability may even improve depending on the situation.

Some disabilities are quite apparent. For example, a person with a physical disability may not be able to move. Not every disability, however, is apparent or obvious. These disabilities are known as invisible disabilities. Although the symptoms are not obvious or apparent, this does not mean that he or she is not struggling with some aspect of life.

Disabilities do not discriminate. It can affect anyone regardless of his or her ethnicity, gender or age. Anyone can struggle with any type or form of disability. Some people may struggle with more than one.

A Look at Physical Disabilities

About 74.6 million Americans have a physical disability. A physical disability can be caused by an accident, birth defects, an illness or even old age. Those with a physical disability experience impaired or restricted movement.

These disabilities can make it hard for a person to work. It also has many difficulties at home, at school or in one’s daily life.

Physical disabilities can affect one’s ability to move around or to perform certain actions. A person with a physical disability may need some type of special equipment to assist them. For example, those who have difficulties getting around may benefit from having a wheelchair.

Examples of Physical Disabilities

A physical disability can affect any body part. Some physical disabilities, like spina bifida, are rather obvious. Others may be difficult to see. For example, the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may not be that obvious. These disabilities affect inner organs.

There are many different types of physical disabilities. Some examples of physical disabilities include:

  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Cerebral Palsy (CP)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Spina bifida
  • Ulcerative colitis

Unfortunately, some disabilities can have symptoms that can become a second disability. For example, diabetes can cause symptoms like damage or vision loss.

There are many different ways to manage a physical disability. There are different types of tools and equipment. The severity of a physical disability can also vary. For example, some people with asthma may not have as difficult a time as others.

A Look at Learning Disabilities

Another type of disability is a learning disability. Learning disabilities affect one’s ability to process or comprehend information. The symptoms may not always be obvious. Learning disabilities may also be a form of invisible disability. Symptoms are often difficult to detect.

Learning disabilities are often misdiagnosed. These disabilities interfere with higher level skills, like time planning and abstract thinking. This type of disability may affect a person’s ability to:

  • Calculate numbers or do mathematics
  • Listen
  • Read and comprehend information
  • Speak or convey information
  • Think

When it comes to a learning disability, a person’s ability to express or comprehend information may be impeded. As a result, he or she may have difficulties communicating, performing executive functions and memorizing information.

Learning disabilities are lifelong disabilities. They affect a person’s ability to work, go to school and perform daily errands. Those affected by this type of disability may not be able to excel in school, work and other environments.

Learning disabilities can be considered as a type of developmental disability. It depends on the cause of the disability.

Surprisingly, people with learning disability may have average or above average intelligence. Their disability does not align with their potential or their actual achievement. They may also appear to be very bright and intelligent.

Examples of Learning Disabilities

Many Americans have a learning disability. This type of disability is not usually obvious. In 2010, 4.6 million Americans reported having a learning disability.

Many students may need additional assistance. They may use unique study aids or may need a specific type of learning environment or teaching style. They may also need special education and different types of education programs.

There are many different types of learning disabilities. Some of the most common examples include:

  • Auditory processing disorders. With this disability, the affected individual is unable to understand speech. He or she may be unable to recognize differences between the sounds in words.
  • Dyscalculia. Those with this learning disability have difficulties understanding concepts involving numbers. They usually have difficulties with mathematics.
  • Dysgraphia. This type of learning disability is usually associated with brain damage. It affects a person’s motor skills. In this situation, it affects a person’s handwriting abilities.
  • Dyslexia. This is perhaps one of the most well-known learning disabilities. Dyslexia affects approximately 5% to 15% of Americans. This learning disability affects a person’s ability to read and interpret words, letters and symbols.
  • Language processing disorder. This disability affects a person’s ability to process language. It can affect the way a person expresses themselves or understands other people.
  • Non-verbal learning disabilities. Individuals with disabilities in this area may have weak motor, visual-spatial and social skills. They may have poor coordination or they may have difficulties interpreting nonverbal cues like body language.

Developmental disabilities and intellectual disabilities often accompany learning disabilities. The presence of each disability tends to magnify and worsen learning disabilities.

A Look at Developmental Disabilities

Developmental disabilities are quite unique. They impair a person’s behavior on a physical level. The definition of a developmental disability is also quite broad in nature. It can affect a person’s learning abilities, behavior, physical capabilities and more.

Those with a developmental disability are often born with it. This disability usually begins at birth. Some people can also develop this type of disability due to injury or infection. One thing is for sure. Developmental disabilities are lifelong.

Developmental disabilities are actually quite common. 1 in 6 children in America are diagnosed with a developmental disability.

Many developmental disabilities can also fall into other categories. For example, some developmental disabilities can also be considered as intellectual disabilities or sensory disabilities.

These disabilities are often considered as quite severe. They are often lifelong and can be difficult to treat. Those with developmental disabilities also often have obvious symptoms of a disability.

Examples of Developmental Disabilities

Diagnosing a developmental disability can be difficult. At times, the symptoms may look like another disability or another condition. There are different types of tests that can diagnose these disabilities.

There are quite a few different types of developmental disabilities. Some common examples include:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Down syndrome
  • Hearing loss
  • Vision impairment

The severity of developmental disabilities can range from mild to severe. For example, those with Asperger’s Syndrome may exhibit unusual behavior or have an unusual interest. This is considered as a mild form of autism spectrum disorder. An autistic disorder, however, is much more severe. People who struggle with this disability usually have significant language delays. They may also tend to face social and communication challenges.

There is usually no cure for developmental disabilities. However, the symptoms are usually treatable and can become manageable. For example, methylphenidate is a prescription medication used to treat ADHD.

Treatments for developmental disabilities include physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. Some experts also recommend special education programs and classes. Group, individual or family counseling may also help.

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A Look at Intellectual Disabilities

An intellectual disability is characterized as a major limitation in a person’s adaptive behavior and intellectual functioning. An impairment in intellectual functioning is characterized by a low IQ. In most cases, an intellectual disability develops before birth or up to when an individual reaches 18 years of age.

Most intellectual disabilities are caused by an issue with the brain, a disease or an injury. Much like other disabilities, symptoms can range from minor to severe.

Intellectual disabilities can include mental retardation. They are also considered as a branch of developmental disabilities. Intellectual disabilities are also a lot more common than what most people would think. They affect anywhere from 2% to 3% of the population.

Depending on the type of intellectual disability that a person struggles with, the disability can be a bit difficult to diagnose. Physicians will need to take into account genetics and environmental factors.

Examples of Intellectual Disabilities

The diagnosis for intellectual disabilities is fairly simple. These disabilities are defined as having an IQ under 70 and two or more limitations in one’s adaptive behavior. Intellectual disabilities will affect one’s everyday living.

Some intellectual disabilities are much more prominent than others. Some common examples include:

  • Down syndrome
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Fragile X syndrome

Intellectual disabilities can be quite obvious if they are severe. Severe intellectual disabilities often have some very apparent physical symptoms. With that said, it’s also easy for mild intellectual disabilities to go undiagnosed.

A Look at Sensory Disabilities

Sensory disabilities are characterized as a disability that impairs one or more senses. We have five senses. They include hearing, smell, touch, taste and sight. The affected individual does not have to have full loss of the sense in order to have a sensory impairment.

Sensory disabilities can significantly change the person’s view of the world. It can also affect how they interact with the world.

Loss of sight and hearing are often the biggest impairments that affect one’s perception of the world. This is because 95% of the information that we gather about the world around us comes from these two senses. An impairment with one of these senses can have a huge effect on one’s quality of living.

An impairment with these two senses can also affect one’s ability to communicate. It can lead to developmental disabilities, learning disabilities and even mental disabilities.

Examples of Sensory Disabilities

There are many different types of sensory disabilities. Some common examples include:

  • Blindness or vision impairment
  • Deafness or hearing impairments
  • Sensory processing disorder

At times, a person can struggle with more than one sensory disability. Some people have both a hearing and sight impairment although they may not have complete loss of either sense. This is known as a dual sensory impairment.

Those with these two impairments are often referred to as being deafblind. The presence of two sensory impairments means that the effects of both impairments are intensified and magnified.

These individuals often need help from specialists. They often have different needs from a person with just one impairment.

It’s also important to note that sensory disabilities can have different levels of severity. For example, persons with disabilities can have differing levels of vision loss. A person is only considered to be legally blind if they cannot see at 6 meters what a normal person can at 60 meters. A person can also be considered as legally blind if their vision is less than 20 degrees in diameter.

A Look at Mental Disabilities

Mental disabilities are often invisible disabilities. They’re not apparent to the casual observer. In fact, it can be incredibly difficult to determine whether a person struggles with a mental disability.

As many as 1 in 25 Americans struggle with a serious mental illness. Mental disabilities can improve with time. For example, while depression can be debilitating and considered as a mental disability, this mental illness can also improve with the right treatment. Those who take antidepressants may find their disability improving.

Some people are born with mental disabilities. Others develop the disabilities over time. Some mental disabilities may appear seemingly out of nowhere.

Examples of Mental Disabilities

A mental disability is when a disability starts to hinder or interfere with one’s quality of living. The mental disability prevents the individual from being able to do simple, daily errands or tasks.

There are more than 200 different types of mental disabilities and illnesses. Some common examples of mental disabilities include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Schizophrenia

Mental illnesses can lead to other health issues. Those with a mental disability may experience fluctuating neurochemical levels. These neurochemical changes may affect one’s behavior and emotion. They may lead to a desire to abuse drugs or alcohol to artificially return the neurochemical levels back to a normal state.

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Finding Substance Abuse Treatment For Persons With Disabilities

Often times, persons with disabilities may need special addiction treatment programs. They need to find both a rehab facility and a treatment program that can cater to their specific needs. This can be difficult. There aren’t many alcohol treatment or drug treatment programs out there that cater to disabled individuals.

If you’re looking for an addiction treatment program for either yourself or a loved one, inquire about the amenities and utilities that are available. Consider whether the rehab center has made special accommodations for people with disabilities.

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Barriers To Treatment

Many people with disabilities may not get the substance abuse treatment they need even if they struggle with a drug addiction or alcohol addiction. This is because these people often face many barriers.

Some of the most frequently reported barriers that affect both disabled and non-disabled individuals include lack of insurance, family or work obligations and financial hardships.

People with disabilities, however, face even more barriers and hardships. Some of these barriers to treatment include:

  • Accessibility to treatment, as many people struggling with drug or alcohol addiction may not be able to get to the treatment facility
  • Additional financial hardships, as the cost of managing the disability may already be overwhelming
  • Lack of resources or programs that cater to those with disabilities
  • Physical barriers at the rehab centers for drugs or alcohol
  • Social isolation, which helps to conceal and hide the substance use disorders

Those with disabilities may need special accommodations that the drug or alcohol rehab facility cannot provide. Also, not all clinicians may be trained to treat disabled people. They may also not have the tools to help those with a learning disability or developmental disability.

These barriers can prevent them from seeking treatment for substance use disorders. Fortunately, many treatment facilities are working to overcome these barriers.

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Individualized Treatment Plans Catered to Each Patient

Knowing the circumstances surrounding each patient is crucial in coming up with a personalized treatment plan. Each person needs a different type of treatment to achieve sobriety. It is crucial for those with a disability to receive a personalized treatment plan that can cater to his or her specific needs.

Disabled individuals may need special care and attention. Physically disabled people may need a drug or alcohol rehab facility that has the amenities needed to cater to their disability. For example, those who have difficulties getting around may want to look for a wheelchair friendly drug and alcohol treatment center.

Amethyst Recovery Center can help you find an alcohol or drug treatment facility that can cater to your needs. We can help you find a treatment program that can cater to your disability. We can also verify your private insurance to help you find a treatment program that’s covered under your insurance plan. Let us help you find the additional information you need to make an informed decision.

Contact one of our addiction specialists for more information. We’re here to help 24 hours of the day.

Your addiction doesn’t have to define who you are as a person. You can overcome an addiction with the right type of help.

Written by: Justin Kunst

Written by: Justin Kunst

As a member of the Amethyst Recovery Center marketing team, Justin Kunst dedicated his time to curating powerful content that would reach and impact individuals and families who are struggling with substance abuse.


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