Drug and Alcohol Rehab for the Disabled
If you have a physical or mental disability and you also struggle with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, getting the help you need can be doubly challenging. People with disabilities not only have a higher risk of substance misuse than the general population; they also face unique barriers to getting the treatment they need to get sober. Handicapped people with drug or alcohol problems need strong advocates within their personal support groups, their local communities and the country at large.
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.
What factors contribute to substance misuse in the handicapped 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 tranquilizers or muscle relaxants for anxiety, stress or muscle spasms. Having these medications readily available and using them on a regular basis 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 a chronic disease, a congenital condition or an injury may be more likely to turn to prescribed or illicit drugs for relief of pain, depression and feelings of social isolation.
- Enabling by care providers, families and communities. Although very few people would consciously encourage a disabled person to misuse drugs or drink heavily, society has a way of subtly encouraging the handicapped to rely on these crutches. Doctors may overprescribe pain meds or psychotropic drugs instead of looking for a non-pharmacological alternative. Family members, spouses or partners may unconsciously help a handicapped person abuse medication or alcohol by passively assuming that 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.
*Spinal Cord Injuries and Alcohol Don’t Mix
Combining drug or alcohol abuse with a disability may have severe consequences for your health. Craig Hospital, a world-renowned center of rehabilitation and research on spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries, warns that people with spinal cord injuries who drink heavily may have a greater risk of:
- Heart, liver, kidney and brain damage
- Increased muscle spasms
- Bone fractures
- Pressure sores
- Urinary tract infections
Craig warns that older adults with spinal injuries are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of alcohol abuse.
Prevalence of Substance Abuse
How common are substance abuse disorders among the handicapped? According to the Office of Disability, 10 percent of adults in the general population are affected by alcohol, and 5 percent have problems with drugs. By comparison:
- People with disabilities experience drug or alcohol problems at two to four times the rate of the general populace.
- People who are deaf or who suffer from arthritis or multiple sclerosis are twice as likely as the general population to develop a drug or alcohol problem.
- Forty to 50 percent of people with spinal cord injuries, amputations, orthopedic disabilities or impaired vision who use alcohol can be classified as heavy drinkers.
- At least 50 percent of disabled individuals with mental illness, traumatic brain injuries or spinal cord injuries abuse drugs or alcohol.
The Office of Disability also notes that there are difference in the rates of substance abuse based on the nature of the handicap. People with traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries have a substantially higher risk of getting addicted to drugs or alcohol. 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.
Obstacles to Recovery
As if it weren’t hard enough for a person with no disabilities to recover from substance abuse, the disabled have to overcome a number of obstacles just to get into treatment. From prevention to treatment, the handicapped are at a disadvantage, notes the Office of Disability:
- Educational materials about drug and alcohol abuse may not be accessible to people with visual disabilities.
- Informational pamphlets and brochures may be written at a reading level that’s too high for someone with a learning disability.
- Substance abuse prevention materials typically display examples of people who don’t have disabilities, which creates the impression that the handicapped aren’t at risk.
- For disabled persons who don’t drive, treatment centers may be located too far from home for easy access on public transportation.
- Community self-help group meetings may be held in buildings that aren’t accessible to people with limited mobility.
- Social insensitivity may discourage the disabled from taking part in group therapy with non-disabled individuals.
When it comes to clinical research on substance abuse, people who have disabilities are often left out of clinical studies, unless the study specifically targets the handicapped. On almost every level of substance abuse prevention and treatment, resources for the handicapped currently fall short of their needs.
*Teaching Addiction Counselors to Help the Handicapped
Providing individual or group counseling for disabled persons requires sensitivity to the needs and limitations of this population, states Counselor Magazine. Addiction professionals who work with the disabled must be aware of the physical and cognitive challenges they face and must learn to integrate these challenges into treatment:
- People with cognitive disabilities or memory disturbances may benefit from shorter treatment sessions, smaller group sizes and modified educational materials.
- People with chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis 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.
- Counselors should be prepared to help disabled clients with a wider range of issues, such as personal finance, housing and health care.
Finding a Solution
NAADD’s mission is to connect the handicapped with supportive persons and organizations that can help them get the resources they need to complete a recovery program successfully. With this goal in mind, the NAADD:
- Publishes information about alcohol, drugs and disability in printed newsletters, in journals and magazines, and on the Internet
- Dedicates its efforts to improving access to addiction treatment for people with physical or mental handicaps
- Recommends alcohol and drug treatment facilities that have a proven track record of providing effective treatment to the disabled
- Communicates with policy makers about the unique needs of the handicapped in recovery
Access to recovery resources shouldn’t be a luxury reserved for those who have no disabilities. Organizations like NAADD provide advocacy services and referrals for people with co-existing disabilities. If you don’t have a case manager, a doctor, a supportive friend or a spiritual advisor who can help you get the help you need to stop drinking or using, you can contact an advocacy organization directly. Twelve-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous can also provide valuable help for disabled people who want to get sober. We can also offer assistance. Give us a call at our toll-free number and we can connect you with a program that treats handicapped individuals who are suffering from addiction.
Traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries and psychological disabilities like post-traumatic stress disorder often affect the men and women who have served in the military. Unfortunately, drug and alcohol abuse are common among disabled vets, who often self-medicate in order to deal with pain, stress, anger or family conflicts. Disabled veterans can contact their local Vet Center to get information about Substance Use Disorder (SUD) programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA). Each VA medical center has a Substance Abuse Disorder Program that addresses the needs of chemically dependent veterans. There are also many private treatment programs that specialize in treating veterans.
Everyone who abuses drugs faces a major disability: addiction. In your search to lead a sober life, you shouldn’t be held back by a lack of resources. Call us today; we connect people with chronic illness, injuries or cognitive disorders with effective treatment programs.