Substance Abuse & People with Disabilities

It is estimated that about 1 in 4 adults in the United States have a disability of some kind. Reports also estimate that 1 in 12 adults in the country qualifies for a substance use disorder. Unfortunately, there are also several cases where people struggling with addiction and people with disabilities overlap.

What Is Considered A Disability?

A disability is when a person’s body or mind is impaired in such a way that they are unable to engage in one or more major activities in their life. Some people are born with a disability, while other disabilities may be a result of injury or disease. Disabilities may progressively worsen over time, remain unchanged, or even come and go depending on the specific disability, the severity of symptoms, treatment, and the individual person.

Disability is a term that can apply to:

  • Impairments: A person’s physical or mental state doesn’t function as it should.
  • Activity limitations: A person is unable to do certain tasks or activities.
  • Participation restrictions: A person isn’t able to participate fully, if at all, in daily life activities.

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Types of Disabilities

Although everyone is unique, disabilities can be classified into different categories. Some conditions may also be referred to as more than one type of disability.

The different classifications of disabilities include:

  • Developmental Disabilities– physical, behavioral, or learning impairments that often begin during a child’s developmental stage (ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, etc.)
  • Intellectual Disabilities– limitations to intellectual functioning (reasoning, problem-solving skills, learning) and adaptive behavior (age-appropriate life skills)
  • Learning Disabilities- problems processing or recalling new information or skills compared to expectations (dyslexia, language processing disorder, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, etc.)
  • Physical Disabilities– impaired physical capacity or mobility (cerebral palsy, epilepsy, spinal cord injury, amputation, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, arthritis, etc.)
  • Sensory Disabilities- impairment to one or more of the five senses (sensory processing disorder, hearing loss, vision impairment, etc.)

While not every disability may be apparent to the casual observer and not every person with one of these conditions considers themselves disabled, this does not mean that the person is not struggling. Disabilities affect people from all walks of life, and they may impact a person’s communication, learning ability, movement, relationships, mental health, and more.

The Connection Between Mental Illness & Disabilities

Having a disability of any kind can be trying. It can negatively impact a person’s mental health in several harmful ways. Watching peers excel without any problems can be frustrating. Being “different” because of a disability can leave people feeling ostracized or lonely. Also, the onset of a disability later in life that prevents someone from being able to do something they once could can be depressing. Regardless of the severity of their condition, some people with disabilities may develop a mental health disorder such as depression or an anxiety disorder as a result. Without proper mental health treatment or support, these psychological problems may escalate to debilitating levels.

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The Relationship Between Substance Abuse & People with Disabilities

Not only can the presence of a disability interfere with a person’s mental health, but also disabilities and substance abuse can often be connected. Some studies suggest that as much as four out of ten people with disabilities struggle with substance abuse. Another study found that people with disabilities used prescription painkillers, sedatives, stimulants, and tranquilizers in higher quantities than those without a disability.

Substance use disorders can stem from a variety of problems, but when people struggle to cope with the psychological impact of their disability, they may turn to drugs and alcohol for help. A person with a disability may desire social acceptance and use drugs or alcohol as a means to connect with their peers or to have what they perceive as a social life. Others use these substances as a means to escape loneliness or isolation brought upon by their disability.

In other cases, substance abuse could also lead to disability. Examples may include a physical disability as a result of an accident while impaired, or cognitive impairment from years of substance abuse. One study found that anywhere from 36% to 51% of people were under the influence of alcohol during the incident that led to a traumatic brain injury.

Disabilities are just one of many factors that can increase a person’s chances of developing an addiction, but because they tend to decrease a person’s quality of life and negatively impact mental health, people struggling with substance abuse and people with disabilities are often one and the same. Over time and without substance abuse treatment for people with disabilities, the problems may spiral out of control.

Co-Occurring Disorders Among Persons with Disabilities

Unfortunately, where this is one problem, there are often others. Because of the impact that their condition has on their life, people with disabilities may struggle with both a mental health disorder as well as a substance use disorder.

When this occurs, individuals should look for dual diagnosis treatment. These programs are designed to look at both the mental health disorder and addiction at the same time. Treatment will include not only learning about the relationship between the two, but also breaking this connection so that the individual can move forward. Neglecting to address both issues is why many people relapse.

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Substance Abuse Treatment for Persons with Disabilities at Vertava Health

Getting behavioral health treatment when you have a disability can be overwhelming. Transportation, finances, accessibility, and special accommodations are all concerns that may need to be addressed before treatment begins. Finding a treatment center for people with disabilities that meet these needs and requirements can be challenging, but at Vertava Health, we want to help.

With a full clinical assessment before admission and individualized treatment plans, we take each patient’s specific needs and requirements into account to give them their greatest chance of finding sobriety that lasts. For people with disabilities, this approach includes making any necessary accommodations and altering programming if needed. It also helps our staff to better understand the patient’s disability as well as how it could impact the treatment process and place patients in the proper level of care. Some patients benefit from the stability, structure, and support of inpatient treatment programs, but others may only need outpatient care to help them adjust to their new way of life.

Those with disabilities may require access to medical, social, or legal services. They may also benefit from vocational rehabilitation and enhanced life skills training. At Vertava Health, we are prepared to help our patients reach these goals or connect them with people who can assist them so they can learn to better manage their disability within their newly sober life.

Although there is a strong connection between substance abuse and people with disabilities, there is still hope for a better future. At Vertava Health, we offer substance abuse treatment for persons with disabilities to help people from all walks of life find lasting sobriety.