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Substance Use In People With Disabilities – How To Beat Addiction

Did you know that people with disabilities are one of the most vulnerable groups to drug abuse? 

In fact, people with disabilities use drugs more than the general population. And they’re less likely to get help. 

That’s a lot of people at risk. 24 million people in the United States have a disability. Another 23 million have serious mental distress each year. That could be a sign of a cognitive disability. 

Unfortunately, people with disabilities have a harder time finding treatment. You might assume that treatment isn’t an option for you. You may think that you can’t fund treatment with a disability.

Maybe you don’t think your local treatment center has resources for people with disabilities. You may be worried that you won’t be accommodated. Or you may worry about the stigma of being disabled and having an addiction. 

None of that is the truth. It’s very possible for people with disabilities to find treatment! 

Here’s what you should know about substance abuse disorders and disabilities: 

How Do Substance Use Disorders Affect People With Disabilities?

40% of people with disabilities report a substance use disorder (SUD). That’s compared to 34% of the general population. 

Another stat says that up to 40% of people in treatment for a SUD has a disability. That includes physical and mental disabilities. 

But that’s not where it ends. 2.7% of young people with an intellectual disability (ID) have been treated for a substance abuse disorder. 

People with disabilities abuse more drugs. But why?

It’s common for people to turn to drugs as a coping method after a life-changing illness or accident. For instance, people with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and spinal cord injuries (SCI) have a high rate of alcohol abuse. 

These injuries can cause lifelong effects such as: 

  • Chronic pain
  • Paraplegia 
  • Mobility problems
  • Mood changes
  • Seizures

Understandably, it’s hard to cope when your life is completely different. And not enough people with disabilities receive psychological help when they need it the most. 

This leads to unsafe coping methods, which can include drug abuse. 

Of course, people with TBI and SCI aren’t the only ones affected by drug abuse. People with any disability can be affected. 

What Drugs Are Most Commonly Abused By People With Disabilities?

People with disabilities abuse some of the same drugs that other groups of people do. That includes prescription drugs, heroin, and alcohol abuse. Meth addiction and cocaine addiction are less common in people with disabilities. 

Some current concerns include: 

Prescription Drug Addiction in People With Disabilities

Prescription drug abuse has hit a peak—and the disability community isn’t immune. That’s not a surprise. People with disabilities may receive controlled drugs to treat their condition. 

Some prescription drugs are addictive even if you take them as directed. That’s very true of opioids. The temptation to abuse painkillers, stimulants, or hypnotics can be too much. 

In fact, up to 50% of people who have an SCI or TBI have a history of prescription drug abuse. 

That includes abusing: 

  • Opioids, such as morphine, tramadol, or oxycodone
  • Psychiatric medications, such as Ativan, Xanax, or Klonopin
  • Hypnotics, such as Sonata, Ambien, or Lunesta
  • Stimulants, such as Concerta or Ritalin 

These aren’t the only prescription drugs that can cause addiction. Others with the potential for abuse include muscle relaxers and nerve pain medications. 

Heroin Addiction in People With Disabilities

Young adults with disabilities are more likely to report heroin abuse. That’s because opioid overprescription is finally getting attention. 

As doctors taper and stop opioid prescriptions, people who have developed an addiction look for other opioids to replace them. This is affecting people with and without disabilities alike. 

Heroin is cheap and available. It has the same effects as many opioid prescription drugs. However, it’s just as unsafe—if not more. In 2020, it’s common for street heroin to be spiked with fentanyl, which can be lethal. 

Alcohol Addiction in People With Disabilities

Alcohol is more accessible than illicit drugs. That makes it a top drug of choice for some people with disabilities. However, its legal status doesn’t mean that alcohol is safe. 

We know that 10% of disabled people report an alcohol addiction. That’s a higher rate than the general population. 

How To Address A Substance Abuse Problem When You Have A Disability

The steps to recovery are the same whether you’re disabled or not. The only difference is that when you have a disability, you need to find a treatment center that’s accessible.

Accessibility means different things in different situations. If you have a visual impairment, then accessibility may mean: 

  • High, open doorways and spacious floor plans
  • Large, high-contrast signs
  • Braille signage and reading material 
  • Bright lighting

If you have a hearing problem, then accessibility may mean having a sign language interpreter on-site. 

Or if you have a disability that impairs your mobility, you may need access to ramps, elevators, and easy-open doorknobs. 

Depending on your disability, you may want to ask about: 

  • Adjusted counseling schedules
  • Suspending “no medication” rules
  • Removing communication barriers 

At Recovering Champions, we are happy to accommodate people who have these needs. Talk to our treatment specialists about your accessibility concerns during your intake call. We will help you find the accommodations that are right for you. 

Drug Addiction And Alcohol Treatment Resources For People With Disabilities

It’s common for people with disabilities to worry about funding treatment. If your disability affects your ability to work, it can be hard to pay for rehab. But that doesn’t mean rehab isn’t an option. 

Don’t worry if your disability prevents you from having private insurance through a job. Federal, state, and local resources may be available to pay for treatment. In fact, your disability may qualify you for extra resources. 

Medicare & Medicaid

Medicare and Medicaid are both government-funded programs. They provide healthcare coverage for people who can’t afford it otherwise. In some cases, these programs fund treatment for substance abuse disorder. 

Qualifying for Medicare

You may qualify for Medicare if you are:

  • 65 years old or older
  • A citizen or a legal resident for 5+ years
  • A government employee (or married to one)

You also qualify for Medicare if you are: 

  • Diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease at any age
  • Diagnosed with permanent kidney failure at any age
  • Receiving Social Security Disability for at least 24 months

Qualifying for Medicaid 

Medicaid is an income-based state program. The requirements are different from state to state. However, most people qualify for Medicaid if they: 

  • Are underage, pregnant, elderly, disabled, or have a child
  • Earn less than the federal poverty level

Some states have expanded Medicaid to reach more people. Even if you don’t think you qualify for Medicaid, reach out to your local program for more information. Your state may have different requirements. 

Local Programs for Drug & Alcohol Recovery 

State, county, and city governments offer local resources for drug and alcohol recovery. The requirements are different in each locality. You may be eligible for rehab scholarships, grants, or loans. 

You can get more information by: 

  • Talking to your doctor 
  • Contacting your local Department of Health and Human Services
  • Calling our treatment specialists

Some areas have special resources for people with disabilities. Make sure to mention your disability when talking to a counselor or social worker. They’ll be able to help you find the right programs for you. 

Find A Substance Abuse Rehab Center Today

Whether your problem is alcohol or illicit drugs, we’re here for you. At Recovering Champions , we provide evidence-based treatment for drug and alcohol addiction

Your treatment may include: 

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy: CBT is a type of behavioral therapy that links your thoughts with your actions. It can help you recognize triggers before they lead to relapses. 
  • Medication-assisted treatment: MAT is available for some clients. If you’re recovering from opioid or alcohol abuse, then ask your care team about MAT. 
  • Motivational interviewing: MI may be for you if you have a history of relapse. This technique helps you uncover your motivations. This can help you stay on track in recovery. 

Each treatment experience is tailored to your needs.

When you have a disability, that means: 

  • More accommodation
  • Fewer barriers 
  • No stigma

Drug abuse can be hard on your body when you have a disability. Don’t wait on recovery—you can start taking your life back today. 

You’ll receive compassionate care that may include therapy, medication, and group sessions. Call Recovering Champions today to get started! 

Questions About Treatment?

Recovering Champions offers 100% confidential substance abuse assessment and treatment placement tailored to your individual needs. Achieve long-term recovery.


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Recovering Champions Is an accredited drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, that believes addiction treatment should not just address “how to stay sober” but needs to transform the life of the addict and empower him or her to create a more meaningful and positive life. We are dedicated to transforming the despair of addiction into a purposeful life of confidence, self-respect and happiness. We want to give recovering addicts the tools to return to the outside world completely substance-free and successful.

©2023 Recovering Champions