Not only can substance abuse be the cause of a disability, but in reverse, because of the disability the risk of substance abuse goes up. Statistics indicate that alcohol abuse rates for people with disabilities may be twice as high as the general population. Also, students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are at elevated risk for alcohol and other drug abuse. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Conditions, people with disabilities such as deafness, arthritis or multiple sclerosis have shown substance abuse rates of at least double the general population estimates. In many instances, depression takes over when one has a disability, and drugs and/or alcohol is an easy way to ease the physical and emotional pain. Oftentimes the abuse comes from prescription drugs.
Another reason for substance abuse in the disabled population may be the lack of meaningful employment, although most would like to work. There also seems to be a lack of appropriate and accessible treatment programs for the disabled.
It’s easy for parents, spouses or caregivers of a disabled loved one to become so focused on the medical condition that the signs of substance abuse are missed. Sometimes the abuse is forgiven or overlooked by family or friends because of the person’s disability, as if somehow having a disability makes it OK to drink too much or take recreational drugs.
The Wright Research suggests that students with disabilities have a higher rate of parental alcoholism than other students, and that parental alcoholism is one of the strongest predictors of substance abuse. This high rate may be due to the added stress of raising a child or having a family with a disability. Without a strong support network in place, life can be extremely difficult.
Some signs to watch for with substance abuse in people with disabilities are the same as with the general population. Watch for personality or mood swings, change in friends, being focused solely on one’s disability, becoming isolated, frequent bladder infections and being generally run-down all the time. If you suspect someone you love with a disability has a substance abuse problem, talk to them. Talk to their doctor. Monitor their prescription drug use and keep alcohol out of the home. Substance abuse will not help their condition. It will only create more problems. The best medicine is always prevention.
References: Wright University Medical School Study; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Study
Pam Rasmussen is a resident of LaFayette. She is a mother of a child with Spina Bifida and an advocate of special needs children and adults. She can be contacted at email@example.com.