Physical Disabilities and Substance Use: Facts, Barriers to Treatment, and Hope
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Physical Disabilities and Substance Use: Facts, Barriers to Treatment, and Hope

According to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 21.5 million people in the U.S. have some form of substance use disorder. Many of those people also have some form of mental or physical disability, which can make it a challenge for this segment of the population to get needed rehab services for a substance use disorder (SUD) or addiction.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an active SUD in those with physical disabilities can:

  • Interfere with successful engagement in rehabilitation services
  • Impede coordination and muscle control
  • Reduce the ability to follow self-care regimens
  • Contribute to social isolation, poor communication, and domestic strife
  • Contribute to poor health, secondary disabling conditions, or hastening of disabling diseases (e.g., cirrhosis, depression, bladder infections)
  • Impair cognition
  • Inhibit educational advancement
  • Lead to job loss, underemployment, and housing instability

Facts on SUDs and the Disabled Community

While the connection between disability and substance abuse is still being researched, there are definite connections between the two. Information and statistics from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center indicates that substance use disorders occur more often in the disabled community than in the general population. As the resource center states, “Individuals with disabilities are prescribed medications more frequently and take such substances in larger quantities as a result of mobility impairment, pain, and complications with mental health. Requiring these prescriptions for daily function often complicates differentiating between necessary use and excess use/abuse. The United States Department of Health and Human Services Office on Disability reports that over 4.7 million individuals in the United States have both a disability and substance abuse disorder. Opioids are among the most commonly abused substances.

According to a study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, additional disturbing facts on people with physical disabilities and substance use or SUDs include:

  • People with disabilities like deafness, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis have substance abuse rates that are double those of the general population
  • About half of people with spinal cord injury, amputation, blindness, or degenerative diseases who drink alcohol can be classified as heavy drinkers
  • Approximately 4.7 million people with disabilities have a co-occurring substance use disorder
  • More than 50 percent of people with traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, and mental illness abuse drugs or alcohol

The Barriers to Addiction Help

This population is particularly in need of drug abuse and addiction treatment services that can meet their needs. A SAMHSA report states that while both people with and without disabilities often experience barriers to addiction treatment, such as not being able to afford it, those with disabilities have additional barriers that can make it difficult to get treatment even if they have the money and the desire to get help. Finding facilities that are fully accessible for those with physical disabilities, or that provide the additional support needed for those with physical or mental disabilities, can be difficult. In addition, there are other factors that can contribute to the barriers of addiction treatment such as more complex cases of SUDs and physical abuse. One study of people with disabilities and SUDs found that 47 percent of women reported histories of physical, sexual, or domestic violence, compared with 20 percent of men with disabilities reporting abuse experiences. In the same study, 37 percent of women reported sexual abuse, compared with 7 percent of men (SAMHSA).

There is Hope

Treatment options do exist for people with mental and physical disabilities; however, not all centers are able to provide the treatment options or specific programs needed for people who have physical disabilities and are also in need of treatment for addiction. In order for treatment to be effective, rehabilitation programs must be accessible, compassionate, and skilled at treating both the disability and substance use disorder. 

Though there may be barriers, there is also hope. Inpatient drug rehabilitation programs now offer better peer support and access to counseling and therapy; components which may greatly benefit a disabled person. They also offer medically-assisted detoxification prior to beginning treatment and can tailor medications to safely treat symptoms of withdrawal, especially in patients with physical disabilities. 

Treatment for Addiction

Based on the individual’s specific disability and the concerns related to that challenge, programs can provide a range of services needed, including accessibility to both physical space and information. If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder or addiction, get help now. While there is no cure for addiction, it is treatable and recovery is possible. Contact Daylight Recovery Services today at 1-833-2DAYLIGHT to speak to one of our recovery experts.

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