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Drug Rehab for People With Disabilities

Individuals with disabilities face various challenges, including physical, mental, financial, vocational, and social difficulties, making them more vulnerable to substance abuse and addiction. However, there are drug and alcohol treatment programs that are accessible and can offer effective assistance in addressing this problem.

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Accessible Drug and Alcohol Rehab Programs For Disabled

Substance abuse and addiction are serious problems that do not discriminate in who they affect, and people who are disabled or differently abled are no exception.

In fact, disabled people are often hit harder and more frequently by substance use disorders than people who aren’t disabled. Disabled people often have significant hardships to face in the form of physical, mental, financial, vocational, and social issues.

Fortunately, the increased rate of substance use and addiction among people who are disabled is well recognized. Special programs are widely available to provide accessible drug and alcohol treatment to people with special needs.

How Addiction Affects People With Disabilities

Addiction (also called substance use disorder or SUD) can profoundly affect people with disabilities, often aggravating existing issues and creating new life obstacles.

This impact can manifest in numerous ways, such as:

  • Worsening physical health
  • Impeding progress in therapy or rehabilitation
  • Straining relationships with family members and caregivers

Additionally, people with disabilities may experience increased social isolation. They may also have reduced access to essential support services, making it even more difficult for them to break free from the cycle of addiction and regain control of their lives.

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Scope of Substance Abuse in Disabled and Differently Abled People

Substance abuse is a widespread concern that affects people from all walks of life, including the disabled and differently-abled communities.

Substance Use in People With Developmental and Physical Disabilities

People with physical disabilities may face unique challenges and risk factors that can contribute to the development and progression of addiction.

Factors such as chronic pain, social isolation, and increased dependence on medication may make people with physical disabilities susceptible to alcohol and drug abuse.

There are many different types of physical disabilities, and they can range from mild to severe in how deeply they affect a person’s life.

Physical disabilities, injuries, and developmental disabilities that may lead to co-occurring substance abuse include:

  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI): Around 10-20% of adults with TBI start abusing drugs or alcohol after their injury.
  • Multiple sclerosis: Substance abuse has been reported in up to 19% of MS patients.
  • Spinal cord injury: One in five people with a spinal cord injury, such as paralysis, reports abusing drugs or alcohol within the past year.
  • Deafness: Up to 1 in 7 deaf people in the U.S. also has a substance use disorder.
  • Blindness: Between 20 and 50% of people with visual impairments are also believed to battle substance abuse.
  • Chronic pain: Up to 48% of adults living with chronic pain also have a substance use disorder that started after the onset of their pain.
  • Autism: The autism spectrum is vast, and this data is difficult to determine, but it is believed that around 11-29% of people with autism experience substance abuse.
  • Cancer: The actual rate of substance use among cancer patients is unknown but is believed to be low.

Some types of physical disabilities can also be considered mental or emotional disabilities because they affect people strongly in a cognitive manner.

However, mental illness (also known as mental health disorders or mental health issues) is generally not considered a disability.

Very little data exists regarding substance abuse among people with intellectual disabilities, such as Down syndrome.

Risk Factors for Alcohol and Drug Addiction in People With Disabilities

The day-to-day differences experienced by a differently-abled person present a range of risk factors that may make them likely to develop alcohol or drug addiction.

For example, people with physical disabilities must deal with various daily issues that may leave them exhausted and in pain.

Pain and exhaustion are two significant risk factors in people who are disabled and seek substance use as a means of coping.

Risk factors may also vary significantly depending on the type of physical disability.

Examples of substance abuse risk factors among people with disabilities may include:

  • Blind or deaf people may be more prone to alcohol use to cope with the stress of their sensory disabilities.
  • Disabled people with significant pain may be more prone to abuse opioids or other pain medications, especially if they already have prescription drugs.
  • People with a disability that limits their mobility or social participation may try to escape boredom or loneliness by using drugs or alcohol.

Signs of Substance Abuse in Differently-Abled People

Recognizing substance abuse in someone who is disabled may not always be easy, as the symptoms of their addiction may blend with those of their disability.

However, understanding the signs of substance abuse in disabled people is a crucial first step in providing timely help and ensuring they receive the specialized care they need.

Signs of substance abuse in differently-abled people include:

  • Changes in behavior: Increased secrecy, social withdrawal, mood swings, or unexplained absences from activities or appointments
  • Physical signs: Slurred speech, impaired coordination, unsteady gait, or sudden weight loss/gain
  • Cognitive changes: Confusion, memory lapses, difficulty concentrating, or impaired decision-making
  • Neglected self-care: Poor hygiene, disheveled appearance, or lack of interest in personal grooming
  • Medication misuse: Taking higher doses than prescribed, running out of medication before the refill date, or using someone else’s prescription medication
  • A decline in daily functioning: Difficulty performing daily tasks, reduced motivation, or increased need for assistance
  • Relationship problems: Strained relationships with friends, family members, or caregivers due to increased irritability, isolation, or dishonesty
  • Changes in sleep patterns: Insomnia, oversleeping, or disrupted sleep schedule
  • Financial issues: Unexplained financial difficulties, frequent borrowing of money, or missing belongings or valuables

If you notice any of these signs in a person with a disability, seeking professional help and support is essential. Early intervention can make a significant difference in the effectiveness of addiction treatment.

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Risks and Dangers of Substance Abuse in Disabled Persons

For disabled people, substance abuse can be particularly detrimental, as it impacts their overall well-being and can worsen existing challenges or create new ones.

Some of the key risks and dangers include:

  • Worsening of existing disabilities
  • Development of new mental health or physical health issues
  • Increased health complications
  • Higher risk of overdose
  • Mental health decline
  • Isolation and social exclusion
  • Financial strain
  • Increased vulnerability to exploitation and abuse
  • Loss of vital support services
  • Legal consequences

Recognizing the risks and dangers associated with substance abuse in the disabled population is crucial for promoting awareness, understanding, and effective prevention and intervention strategies.

What to Expect in Accessible Addiction Treatment Programs

Accessible addiction treatment programs provide tailored support for people with disabilities or special needs, ensuring they receive the appropriate care to overcome addiction and regain control of their lives.

These programs take into account the unique challenges faced by people with disabilities. They also provide traditional addiction treatment services like medical detox, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), and various types of behavioral therapy.

Here are some services you can expect from accessible addiction treatment programs, including the types of services and therapies offered.

Specialized Services Geared Toward Your Disability

One of the most obvious ways an accessible addiction treatment program will stand out from a traditional program is the availability of specialized services and accommodations.

These services are essential in accessible rehab centers because, without them, the disabled participants of the program may feel unwelcome, unsafe, or uncomfortable.

Specialized services geared toward people with disabilities may include:

  • Staff who are trained in American Sign Language (ASL)
  • Rooms and products that are Braille-accessible
  • Aids for people with hearing impairments
  • Wheelchair accessible rooms
  • Grab bars in all restrooms
  • Access to 24-hour medical care
  • Family training and education

Specific needs must be addressed and provided for at inpatient treatment centers, where people are under the care of the facility staff 24/7.

Programs That Integrate Drug or Alcohol Rehab and Vocational Rehab

One of the goals of many rehab programs is to prepare participants to enter the workforce upon leaving, which is also true for people who are disabled.

Vocational rehab services can include job training, placement assistance, and ongoing support to ensure success in the workplace.

Accessible Exercise Programs and Outings

Exercise programs and outings that are accessible for disabled people can help participants to work on their health and fitness while in recovery.

People are only expected to do what they can, but participation is almost always encouraged.

12-Step Support Groups for Differently Abled People Only

Twelve-step support groups offer a safe space for people who are differently abled to share their stories and experiences with others who have had similar struggles.

These programs also incorporate a spiritual aspect into recovery, which may not be the right choice for everyone but can be a great choice for many.

Dual-Diagnosis Rehab Programs

Dual-diagnosis rehab programs aim to treat a person’s addiction and any co-occurring disorders involving their mental or behavioral health.

This type of program is common when treating people who are disabled because mental health disorders are so common among this group of people.

Continuing Care Programs

Continuing care programs for disabled people are designed to provide ongoing support and resources to promote long-term recovery and prevent relapse.

Continuing care can encompass many services, including sober living homes, outpatient treatment, case management, relapse prevention planning, and telehealth services.

How to Help a Differently Abled Person Who’s Battling Substance Abuse

If you have a loved one who is differently abled and also battling an addiction to drugs or alcohol, you may wonder what you can do to help.

1. Discuss Your Concerns With Your Loved One

Let your loved one know that you are worried about them. Tell them you still care about them and only want what is best for them.

Make sure to discuss your concerns with your loved one while you are both calm and sober. It may also help to have other family members with you or a healthcare professional that your loved one trusts.

2. Listen to Their Concerns

After you share your concerns with your loved one, make sure that you give them an equal opportunity to respond and share their concerns.

This may be one of the first opportunities to voice their concerns or emotions, so allow them time and space to gather their thoughts if needed.

3. Offer Support for Addiction Recovery

Your loved one needs to know that you are there for them and will support them throughout recovery.

Offering support can come in many different forms, whether that means simply listening to your loved one when they need to talk or accompanying them to appointments and counseling sessions.

4. Provide Information on Accessible Treatment Options

Bring a list of helpful resources and rehab centers or treatment providers in your area if you can research before talking to your loved one.

It may help significantly if your loved one is made aware that there are rehab programs that are tailored specifically for their particular needs.

5. Help Them Seek an Accessible Rehab Program

Offer to help your loved one find a rehab program accessible for people with disabilities, as they may have trouble locating one independently.

You may also offer transportation to your loved one, if you can, to help them get to and from their appointments and support groups, etc., as it is common for people with disabilities to struggle with reliable transportation.

Benefits of Addiction Treatment for People With Disabilities

For disabled people, the benefits of participating in specialized addiction treatment programs are particularly significant. These drug rehab programs address the unique challenges and needs associated with their disabilities.

By participating in comprehensive and accessible addiction treatment, disabled people can work toward long-term addiction recovery.

Some of the benefits of substance use disorder treatment for people with disabilities include:

  • Improved physical health: Receiving substance abuse treatment can help disabled people improve their overall physical health by reducing the adverse effects of substance use on their bodies.
  • Improved mental health: Treatment programs often address co-occurring mental health issues, which can lead to an overall improvement in emotional well-being and a reduction in symptoms such as anxiety and depression.
  • Increased independence: As disabled people work through substance abuse treatment programs, they may develop greater self-confidence and coping skills, increasing autonomy and self-sufficiency.
  • Better quality of life: By addressing substance abuse issues, disabled people can experience improved relationships, increased participation in social activities, and a greater sense of purpose and happiness.
  • Stronger support network: Treatment programs often involve group therapy or support groups, which can help disabled people build connections with others who share similar experiences.

Cost of Accessible Rehab Programs

The cost of addiction treatment can be a significant barrier for many people seeking help, but it is even more critical for those with disabilities who may face additional financial challenges.

Of course, the needed care level can impact the rehab program’s overall cost.

However, accessible rehab programs for disabled people strive to provide the necessary support and resources to people in need while being affordable.

Health Insurance for People With Disabilities

In addition to having the option to purchase private health care insurance, people with disabilities also have a few options to receive free or low-cost health insurance through the government.

Both Medicaid and Medicare are government-funded insurance programs that are available to people with disabilities, the main difference being that Medicare is for people 65 and over.

Suppose the disabled person is also a U.S. veteran and obtained their disability from an injury related to their military service. In that case, they may be entitled to disability benefits through the VA.

Scholarships and Treatment Program Discounts

It is sometimes possible to find special treatment program discounts or scholarships available for people with disabilities.

These scholarships or grants are offered by the federal government, state governments, and even sometimes by the treatment facilities themselves.

Payment Plans Offered by Accessible Rehab Centers

Many rehabilitation programs also offer payment plans to help people who need more time paying for their programs.

Interest may or may not be added to an addiction treatment payment plan, so always check with your prospective treatment center in advance.

Barriers to Addiction Treatment for People With Disabilities

Access to addiction treatment is crucial for people with substance abuse issues, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.

However, for disabled people, unique barriers often prevent or hinder them from seeking the help they need.

Some of the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from seeking addiction treatment include: 

  • Lack of accessibility: Many rehabilitation facilities may not be physically accessible for people with disabilities.
  • Financial constraints: Disabled people often face financial challenges due to limited income sources.
  • Transportation issues: Limited access to transportation can hinder disabled people from attending treatment sessions, support groups, and medical appointments.
  • Stigma and discrimination: People with disabilities may experience prejudice, discrimination, or a lack of understanding from others, making seeking treatment for substance abuse even more challenging.
  • Communication barriers: Those with hearing, speech, or cognitive disabilities may face communication challenges that make it difficult to understand or convey their needs during treatment.

Resources for Disabled and Differently-Abled People Seeking Addiction Treatment

People who are disabled or differently abled have multiple options when it comes to seeking accessible drug or alcohol treatment, as well as other helpful resources.

If you can do so, it may also be beneficial to speak with your primary care physician or the health care provider you see about your disability.

They can introduce you to additional resources local to your city or state and provide referrals when needed.

Resources for disabled and differently-abled people seeking addiction treatment include:

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Besides varied substance abuse resources, this site also offers a comprehensive database of addiction treatment centers and programs in the United States.
  • Veterans Disability Benefits: Here, people can find information about filing a VA claim for disability benefits if they developed their disability due to their time in the military.
  • VA Caregiver Support Program: This program offers various resources as well as a toll-free helpline for those who are acting as caregivers to veterans who are disabled.
  • Housing Choice Vouchers: This program assists people with disabilities and low-income families and seniors to find private housing.
  • Medicaid.gov: A database of state Medicaid offices where disabled people can find their local office, check eligibility, and apply for coverage.

In addition to being more susceptible to drug use, people who are disabled are also more prone to issues like unemployment and homelessness than the general population, so any resources that address these issues as well can be especially helpful.

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Find Help for People With Disabilities Who Are Battling Addiction

Living with a physical or mental disability while simultaneously battling a drug or alcohol addiction can be a complicated and terrifying situation for someone to find themselves in.

If you or someone you love is in this situation now, please know that there are resources available as well as kind and compassionate treatment.

Ultimately, by seeking tailored care and support, people with disabilities can empower themselves to overcome addiction and lead fulfilling and healthy lives.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers an online treatment center locator and a hotline with the same service. Call them at 1-877-726-4727 (HELP) or visit their website at www.findtreatment.gov to find nearby accessible treatment options for yourself or a loved one.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of AddictionHelp.com and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

  1. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (1998). Substance Use Disorder Treatment For People With Physical and Cognitive Disabilities. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64881/
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, August 26). Mental health and substance use among adults with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic – United States, February–March 2021. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7034a3.htm
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2023, February 3). Comorbidity: Substance use and other mental disorders. National Institutes of Health. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/comorbidity-substance-use-other-mental-disorders
  4. US Department of Health and Human Rights. (2018, October 25). Fact Sheet: DRUG ADDICTION AND FEDERAL DISABILITY RIGHTS LAWS. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/drug-addiction-aand-federal-disability-rights-laws-fact-sheet.pdf
  5. USAGov. (2023, May 18). SSDI and SSI benefits for people with disabilities. USA.gov. https://www.usa.gov/social-security-disability

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