Being deaf with a substance use disorder (SUD) can present many challenges, such as feeling isolated because of an addiction or being unable to communicate your needs to the outside world. Then there are issues such as a lack of access to services and feelings of hopelessness that are related to the disability.

All of these factors can predispose deaf or hard-of-hearing people to abuse alcohol or drugs or continue the cycle of addiction for numbness or relief.

In fact, substance use disorders among deaf populations might even be more pronounced than those in hearing communities. An estimated one in seven deaf people in the U.S. suffers from substance dependency compared to one in ten hearing people. The National Council On Alcoholism and Drug Dependence puts the number of people with hearing loss and a substance abuse issue at an estimated 600,000

Even more concerning are the barriers people who are deaf face in receiving appropriate addiction treatment services. 

In general, a reputable treatment program will make accommodations for clients with special needs. For people who are deaf or hard of hearing, a professional recovery program can provide an interpreter. 

If you have a loved one who is deaf and needs help, read on to learn more about the challenges and treatment options available to them. 

Risk Factors for Abusing Drugs and Alcohol

Extensive research on the prevalence of substance abuse in the deaf community does not exist. However, people who are deaf possess certain risk factors that predispose them to substance abuse such as a lack of academic achievement, low self-esteem, a history of child abuse and/or neglect, alienation from family, and expectation of unemployment/diminished job prospects.

What’s more, deaf people can feel isolated, especially when they are born to hearing parents. Such a profile makes it difficult for them to establish effective communication unless parents can learn and practice American Sign Language (ASL).

They may also have difficulty fitting in and forming friendships. These realities can also influence deaf people to abuse drugs or alcohol.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (Samhsa) Outlines These Risk Factors for People With Physical and Sensory Disabilities:

  • Pain
  • Depression 
  • Social isolation 
  • Access to prescription pain medications 
  • Chronic medical problems 
  • Unemployment 
  • Limited education
  • Enabling by caregivers 
  • History of physical or sexual abuse 
  • Low socioeconomic level 
  • Little exposure to substance use disorder (SUD) prevention education

Commonly Abused Substances by the Deaf

Research conducted in the 1990s extrapolated that if alcohol and drug addiction were roughly the same between deaf populations and hearing populations, then the following must have also been true at that time: that there are 28 million deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the U.S.; and 200,000 deaf individuals struggle with alcoholism; 3,505 deaf people addicted to heroin; 31,915 who use cocaine; 5,105 who use crack; and 97,745 people who use marijuana.

If those projections hold true, then the most widely used substances among the deaf are alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine. 

However, there is a lack of significant research that highlights the substance abuse patterns for the deaf beyond alcohol and marijuana use. 


According to one study, deaf people abuse alcohol because (1) of easy access to it and the widespread resistance among educators, parents, and others in recognizing the signs; (2) it helps them manage anxiety and frustration; (3) they may feel like an oppressed minority, so it provides numbness and relief; and (4) of factors in medical intervention and rehabilitation.


Another study suggests that when deaf people attend mainstream schools and receive poor grades, they can feel compelled to use marijuana.

Young People and Substance Abuse

One Study Outlined Six Factors Among Young People Who Were Deaf or Hard of Hearing and Admitted to Addiction Treatment: 

  • They have a lower age of onset of substance use. 
  • They have a greater substance problem severity (dependence and withdrawal).
  • They have higher rates and greater severity of childhood victimization.
  • They have higher rates of co-occurring psychological problems such as depression, traumatic stress, and conduct problems. 
  • They have social networks more dominated by substance users.
  • They had a greater likelihood of running away from home in the past or being homeless.

What Is a Substance Abuse Disorder?

Drug addiction is a brain disease and is characterized by the loss of control over the use of drugs or medications, whether legal or illegal, according to the Mayo Clinic.  

When someone becomes addicted to a substance, they will begin to display outward signs and compulsive behaviors.

Here’s What To Look For When It Comes to Substance Abuse and Addiction Signs: 

  • Changes in appearance; the person looks disheveled, tired, rundown or haggard; bloodshot eyes
  • Increased tolerance to alcohol, drugs, or other addictive substances
  • Isolation or avoiding interaction with others
  • Displaying forgetfulness or a fuzzy recollection of events that have occurred (Sometimes, these episodes are referred to as blackouts or brownouts.)
  • Risky handling of finances
  • Being negligent when it comes to responsibilities like work or school
  • Participating in risky behaviors that endanger themselves or others
  • Mood swings and/or irrational behavior
  • A decline in mental and/or physical health
  • Sudden health challenges and complications

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the principal authority for psychiatric diagnoses, outlines specific criteria that indicate addiction.

According to the Dsm-5, If Someone Displays Two of the Following Symptoms Over 12 Months, They May Have an Addiction:

  • Taking more of the drug than intended and for a longer time than intended
  • A persistent desire to stop taking drugs or repeated unsuccessful attempts to quit taking drugs
  • A lot of time spent trying to get drugs, abuse them, and/or recover from their effects
  • Intense cravings or urges for specific drugs
  • Failing to go to work or school, or to meet obligations to friends and family because of drug abuse
  • Ongoing drug abuse despite physical, mental, emotional, or social problems associated with the abuse
  • Giving up hobbies or activities to abuse drugs
  • Ongoing abuse of drugs in inappropriate situations, such as using them in the morning before work, driving while intoxicated, or abusing drugs around children
  • Experiencing physical or psychological problems due to substance abuse but continuing to abuse drugs anyway
  • Physical tolerance, meaning the body needs more of the drug to experience the original level of intoxication
  • Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when trying to quit the drug

Deaf People and Barriers to Treatment and Recovery

In general, people who have addictions do not get the appropriate treatment due to reluctance and treatment costs. For those who are deaf or hard of hearing, the barriers to treatment can be even more pronounced. 

Those barriers, according to this report, include the following:

A lack of awareness:

An overall lack of awareness and/or denial about an ongoing substance abuse issue. This can also result from a lack of education and access to materials about alcohol and drugs.

A need to preserve confidentiality:

Communication in deaf communities often occurs on a person-to-person basis and information is spread through a grapevine of people. A person may be reluctant to divulge their struggles with drugs and/or alcohol out of fear that their news will become a part of that grapevine.

A lack of accessible resources:

Even with advancements in medicine, addiction treatment, technology, and communication, there remains a dearth of services for deaf persons. In 2009, only five providers in the U.S. offered inpatient substance abuse treatment services for deaf people, according to SAMHSA. What’s more, a national survey in 2008 by SAMHSA found that an estimated 27 percent of opioid treatment facilities offered interpretation services to patients who are deaf or hard of hearing. There’s information to suggest that not much has changed, even in these times.

Enabling friends and family members:

When people are labeled as disabled or handicapped, there is a tendency amongst their loved ones to protect them, which could also mean enabling their bad habits and addictions. This can mean that a deaf person is not held accountable for their actions regarding their addiction.

A lack of available funds:

Highly specialized addiction treatment may prove costly for people who are deaf and/or hard of hearing. Programs of this kind are less widely available and require specially trained staff and a range of services to meet a client’s needs. There’s also the cost of travel to consider.

A lack of support in recovery:

While this is a common problem for all people who battle addictions, this issue is especially acute for the deaf and hard of hearing. There tends to be a much smaller number of deaf people in recovery, which leaves fewer opportunities for socialization. What’s more, there is very likely a lack of deaf role models who have undergone drug or alcohol recovery that can support them.

A lack of helpful communication tools:

To receive the appropriate benefits from substance abuse treatment, a client who is deaf or hard of hearing must be able to communicate and engage in the recovery process. Unfortunately, many facilities do not have the communications tools or ASL interpreters to help fully integrate a deaf client into a treatment program.

How Professional Treatment Can Help

A reputable, professional treatment program will offer a full range of services and special accommodations for the deaf or hearing impaired. To accommodate the deaf, we provide an interpreter who offers ASL services. This also goes for clients speaking other languages, as well.

What’s more, that interpreter would be on hand to assist a client as they go through the recommended continuum of care, which provides them medical detoxification via acute treatment, clinical stabilization services offering comprehensive therapy and counseling, outpatient care that provides additional therapy, and links to aftercare recovery communities and services.

Whether your addiction is to alcohol, opioids, marijuana, or cocaine, a treatment program will rid your body of the addictive substance, get you mentally and physically stabilized, help you get to the root of your addiction, and equip you with life skills education and strategies to avoid relapse. 

If you have an addiction and a co-occurring mental health disorder, you can get specialized dual diagnosis treatment as well. 

All the while, we will equip you with the accommodations necessary to help you realize a successful recovery. 

Get Help Today

You do not have to carry the burden of addiction alone. We can help you locate a treatment program that will provide you the services necessary to meet your particular needs, especially if you are deaf or hard of hearing. 

Call 855-956-4940 anytime, day or evening, for a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable addiction recovery specialists.  We can help you find the right treatment option. You can also contact us online for more information.

Tap to GET HELP NOW: (844) 326-4514