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Drug and Alcohol Addiction Rehab Center for the Disabled

Addiction and disability have a complex relationship, but treatment options do exist. To help people with mental or physical disabilities recover from a substance use disorder (SUD), treatment centers must understand the unique needs of this population.

Substance Use in the Disabled Population

When it comes to clinical research on substance misuse, people with disabilities are often left out, unless the study specifically targets this population. On almost every level of substance misuse prevention and treatment, resources for people with disabilities currently fall short of their needs.

A 2021 survey of people with disabilities found:1

  • Approximately 64% of people with disabilities experienced adverse mental health symptoms or substance use in early 2021.
  • Approximately 41% of people with disabilities reported past-month substance use.
  • Methamphetamine, nonopioid prescription drug, opioid, and polysubstance misuse were at least twice as prevalent among adults with disabilities.
  • People with disabilities more frequently reported difficulty accessing relevant care and medications than people. Without disabilities.

The Office of Disability also notes differences in the rates of substance misuse based on the nature of the handicap. People with traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries have a substantially higher risk of becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol.2 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.

Drug and Alcohol Rehab for People With Disabilities: Barriers to Treatment

If you live with a mental or physical disability and struggle with drug or alcohol addiction, getting the help you need can feel doubly challenging. People with disabilities often face more barriers than others when it comes to seeking drug and alcohol addiction treatment. While efforts are being made to decrease these barriers and improve the quality of drug and alcohol treatment for people with disabilities, there is still much work to be done.

Barriers to treatment may be economic, environmental, psychological, or social and can include examples such as:3

  • Counseling that is not adapted for patients with cognitive disabilities.
  • Financial constraints.
  • Materials that are not adapted for people with a learning disability (e.g., informational pamphlets with reading levels that are too high).
  • Materials that are not adapted for people who are visually impaired (e.g., Braille, large print)
  • Lack of staff training.
  • Lack of transportation.
  • Physical barriers (e.g., inaccessible parking, nonfunctioning elevators).
  • Policies that do not include people with disabilities (e.g., requiring patients to be able to evacuate unassisted in the event of an emergency).
  • Social insensitivity may discourage people with disabilities from participating in group therapy with non-disabled individuals.
  • Substance use prevention materials that display examples of people who do not have disabilities, which create the impression that people with disabilities are not at risk.

The Office on Disability, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS), established a goal of reducing drug and alcohol addiction nationwide in its Healthy People 2010 objectives. The department’s objective is to “reduce substance abuse to protect the health, safety, and quality of life for all, especially children.” The Office on Disability emphasizes the importance of carrying this goal over to the disabled population, who have a higher-than-average risk of chemical dependence.

Risk Factors of Disability and Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Some studies suggest that people with disabilities have higher rates of substance use disorders (SUDs) than people without disabilities, as well as lower rates of treatment.3 People with disabilities face several risk factors for SUDs, including:3

  • Access to prescription pain medications.
  • Caregivers who may enable them.
  • Chronic medical issues.
  • Depression.
  • History of abuse (e.g., physical or sexual).
  • Isolation.
  • Low socioeconomic level.
  • Unemployment.

What factors contribute to substance misuse in the disabled population? According to the USDHHS, risk factors for disabled individuals include:

  • Greater potential for misusing prescription medications. Many disabled people take narcotic medications for pain and muscle relaxants or tranquilizers for anxiety muscle spasms, or stress. Having these medications readily available and using them regularly may increase the risk of dependence or misuse.
  • Physical pain and limited mobility related to a disability. People whose lives are restricted by the effects of chronic disease, congenital condition, or injury may be more likely to turn to prescribed or illicit drugs for depression, feelings of social isolation, and pain relief.
  • Enabling by care providers, families, and communities. Although very few people would consciously encourage a disabled person to misuse drugs or alcohol, society has a way of subtly encouraging the handicapped to rely on these crutches. Doctors may overprescribe pain medications or psychotropic drugs instead of looking for a non-pharmacological alternative. Family members may unconsciously help a handicapped person misuse medication or alcohol by assuming they “can’t do anything to help.”
  • Lack of accessible prevention and treatment services. From poorly equipped treatment facilities to limited transportation and inaccessible educational materials, the disabled are faced with hurdles at every stage of the recovery process. Overcoming these barriers is the focus of the National Association on Alcohol, Drugs, and Disability (NAADD). The NAADD provides resources that connect handicapped substance users with accessible services in their communities or online.

Teaching Addiction Professional to Help the Disabled

Providing individual or group counseling for disabled persons requires sensitivity to the needs and limitations of this population. Addiction professionals who work with the disabled must be aware of the cognitive and physical challenges they face and must learn to integrate these challenges into treatment:

  • People with cognitive disabilities or memory disturbances may benefit from modified educational materials, shorter treatment sessions, and smaller group sizes.
  • People with chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis (MS) or arthritis may have difficulty with attendance and may benefit from having sessions at home.
  • Disabled people who rely on specialized transportation services may not be able to attend meetings in the evenings and may require more flexible scheduling.

Getting Help for Addiction

NAADD’s mission is to connect the handicapped with resources and support that can help them complete a recovery program successfully. NAADD and similar organizations provide advocacy services and referrals for people with co-existing disabilities. If you do not have a case manager, doctor, supportive friend, or spiritual advisor who can help you get the help you need, you can contact an advocacy organization directly. 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) can also provide valuable help for disabled people who want to get sober.

Addiction American Addiction Centers (AAC) can also help. AAC is a leading provider of inpatient and outpatient rehab treatment services and committed to supporting those struggling with addiction on their journey to recovery. If you are looking for information on addiction treatment, you can contact us 24/7 to learn more or see if insurance will cover the cost of treatment by filling out the form below.


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