Addiction is something that does not discriminate. It can affect people in any environment, setting, or life experience. Yet, there is no denying that your unique challenges and life experiences can affect what addiction and recovery look like. People with disabilities often struggle with getting the help they need and may face a higher degree of barriers to treatment.
However, people with disabilities and an addiction struggle can and do frequently recover, rising to the occasion and conquering their challenges. With a lot of support from a strong social network, and the inner strength and commitment of a survivor to keep fighting for recovery, a better life is possible.
The Office on Disability, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reports that people with disabilities may be as much as four times more likely to have a serious substance abuse disorder. People with traumatic brain injuries or spinal cord injuries have an especially higher risk of having a problem with addiction. There are a number of risk factors that contribute to these higher levels of addiction in the disabled community.
People with physical disabilities may have greater access to pain medication. Even when these drugs have legitimate needs, there is a danger that a user can fall into habits of misuse. Physical pain, social isolation, and frustrations of limited mobility can sometimes lead to “self-medication,” in which people abuse alcohol or illicit drugs as a way to cope.
A caregiver’s’ misguided attitudes of pitying or creating excessive dependence can quickly turn into enabling behavior, so that people continue to drink heavily or abuse drugs, unaware of the consequences. Furthermore, many resources working to treat or prevent addictions do not put enough thought into their accessibility, so that people in need of recovery cannot even access those resources. For all these reasons, it is vitally important that more work be done to help people with co-occurring addictions and physical disabilities be able to get to access recovery services.
Furthermore, a person with disabilities can be more vulnerable and in greater danger, if they use alcohol or a drug illicitly. Many drugs may interact with the medications they are given by a doctor in potentially unknown and very dangerous ways. They also may be more prone to health complications or may find that a substance interacts with or intensified their physical challenges in a way that can become very dangerous. For example, a person with cerebral palsy may find that even a moderate amount of alcohol can significantly impair movement and coordination, in a way that can make serious accidents more likely.
Recovery workers, counselors, doctors, and members of peer support groups all care deeply about your recovery and want you to succeed in having a lifetime of empowered sobriety. However, some people may not be aware of the challenges created by your disability, and the ways they can work around challenges to support you.
This could be making sure the meeting space is one you can get to, or making sure the meeting is at a time or place you can get to. People can also think creatively on how to accommodate you, with smaller class sizes, modified educational materials, as well as connecting you to other helpful resources to help with your needs for health, finance, or housing.
There are also 12-step and SMART recovery groups that meet online or counselors that would be willing to meet you in your home. The important thing to remember is that a good counselor will be willing to do whatever it takes to help you. Thinking about and asking for the accommodations you will need can do a great deal in helping you get to the help you really need to best support long-term recovery.