Addiction Treatment Options for People With Disabilities

Medically Reviewed

The most significant minority in the United States are individuals who have disabilities. These disabilities can take shape in mental or physical forms. For people experiencing limitations, the process of recovering from addiction is complicated by barriers that do not exist for others. Attempts to recover from an addiction to a substance can be significantly hindered by issues associated with physical or mental disabilities. 

It is estimated that 54 million people experience a form of disability; 4.7 million of these individuals have both a substance use disorder and a coexisting disability. States like California, for example, have slashed funding that is geared toward helping individuals who have disabilities. It has caused an explosion in the state’s homeless population.

With a steady rise in the homeless population and insufficient means to receive help, those who have any ailment may wonder how they can receive treatment if they are in the grips of a drug or alcohol addiction.

Estimates have indicated that addiction issues cost the U.S. economy roughly $220 billion each year. When it comes to people who have physical disabilities, there are usually special circumstances around their substance abuse that relates to their disability. Chronic pain and addiction are correlated with one another often, and these circumstances require special consideration from anyone looking to treat someone seeking help for their substance use disorder.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the rates of substance abuse since the population of people with physical disabilities people is much smaller than the general population, and these individuals take prescription medication that is used at a higher rate due to pain or mental health issues. 

When someone requires these medications to function at a reasonable rate, it will look different than a non-disabled person who is using the drugs. There are varying points because of the disability involved. Some people have low mobility, which results in complete isolation, where others can get around but rely on opioids to cope with their pain.

All of this factors into the difficulty and barriers individuals will have in their way for treatment. A significant barrier, however, is a lack of information available to them. Some people who are homeless do not have access to smartphones or computers that can answer questions for treatment. Many people with physical disabilities can see their primary care physician frequently, and education enables them to be aware of the signs of substance abuse and implement preventative measures.

Substance Use Among Specific Populations With Disabilities

There are particular risk factors that people with physical disabilities will face. It can increase their chances of drug abuse and addiction. Some of these include:

  • Increased risk of mental illness
  • Chronic medical problems
  • Unemployment
  • Poverty
  • Risk of physical or sexual abuse
  • Social isolation
  • Enabling by caregivers
  • Lack of access to education

The most commonly used substances among those with ailments are ones that reduce pain. With the opioid crisis having such a profound impact on our nation, it’s no wonder that those with chronic pain that disables them use OxyContin, Percocet, Norco, alcohol, heroin, and marijuana.

Prescriptions for pain relievers are written each year because they achieve their desired effect — they kill the pain. Drugs like Norco and Percocet are highly effective at eliminating pain, but sometimes the benefits do not outweigh the risks. Opioid medications are highly addictive and cause health problems over time. Other substances are typically used to self-medicate when people with physical disabilities lack the resources necessary to obtain their prescription. Marijuana is highly sought out to help the pain, but heroin has become more common because of its low cost and potent effects.

Health Concerns

There are general concerns about substance abuse for those with physical disabilities as well as concerns that relate to their disability. Those who are managing both issues will deal with some problems listed below.

  • Difficulty accessing medical treatment: People with disabilities have a difficult time getting around. This means that ongoing substance abuse makes it even more challenging to get to the doctors, and drug abuse decreases the chance they will follow medical advice such as taking smaller doses of their medication or going to physical therapy to manage the pain.
  • Increased health problems: Having a physical disability makes someone already prone to health problems even more susceptible to infection or inflammation that can be worsened by the use of certain substances. Intoxication can also reduce coordination and cause injury. If someone is homeless, they can stumble into traffic and cause an accident.
  • Interaction with prescription medications: Using prescription drugs in conjunction with alcohol or illegal substances runs a significant risk of damage to their body. It can include dangerous interactions or even an overdose that can result in death.
  • Problems with employment: An unintended consequence of substance abuse is that it can negatively affect social and occupational engagements. Drug abuse makes employment much harder to obtain and can push away friends or family who disapprove of the lifestyle.

How Do I Get Help If I Have a Disability?

Barriers to treatment are common and come in many shapes and forms. Unfortunately, those with disabilities may find themselves at odds if they want to address their substance use disorder. When mobility is an issue, getting to a doctor or inside a treatment center can be a tireless task. 

A large percentage of those who treat substance abuse and addiction are not equipped to deal with physical disability. A study released by the American Association on Health and Disability states that half of the medical professionals approached could not offer services to the people who were physically disabled because of physical barriers. 

Another thing to take into consideration is that not all physical disabilities are visible. Those with arthritis may be able to walk into a doctor’s office without complications, but they are dealing with chronic pain in parts of their body that keep them from living an active lifestyle. Many medical professionals have likely treated someone who is disabled without knowing so, and those with hidden disabilities need special consideration for treatment including substance abuse problems.

The most effective means to treat someone with a disability is to educate the general population, including doctors. It will help people to understand that individuals with physical disabilities are just as capable of recovering from a substance use disorder as someone who is not disabled. Treatment must be tailored to the person’s unique health and medical needs, including those which surround their disability.

Residential treatment programs offer stability, peer support, and access to counseling and therapy, which can benefit someone who has a disability. Someone requiring access to medical, social, or legal services will benefit from vocational rehabilitation and enhanced life training skills. The services will equip the individual how to manage their disability within a newly sober life better.

Many of those who require additional services will thrive in an outpatient program that helps them adjust to the demands of sober living. These supportive living homes can help those who need assistance with the requirements of a sober life.

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