It is estimated that over 50 million Americans live with some type of disability, including those born with a mental or physical impairment. Whether a disability stems from an accident or a medical condition, it often has serious and negative impacts on a person’s well-being. Some people use drugs and alcohol to numb their disability’s physical and emotional pain, while others use substances to avoid boredom.

  • The disability comes from a head injury or affects cognitive ability. Individuals who have experienced a reduction in their ability to think clearly don’t always recognize that abusing substances is dangerous. They also may not be able to recognize the problem if they already have one. Furthermore, some individuals with traumatic brain injury, in particular, believe the use of alcohol will improve their ability to interact socially.
  • The disability is a mental health disorder. Disability is a word often connected to physical impairment, but psychiatric conditions can also seriously hamper a person’s ability to function. Major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder are just a few of the mental health conditions that make it difficult for a person to live a “normal” life. As a result, the person is more vulnerable to using substances in a desperate attempt to alleviate troubling symptoms, such as insomnia or low energy, and numb painful emotions.
  • The disabled person’s loved ones act as enablers. Sometimes family and friends unintentionally enable substance abusers. For instance, a spouse who feels badly about a partner’s serious injury may be reluctant to say “no” when asked to run to the liquor store for a bottle of tequila. Other loved ones simply ignore the use of alcohol or drugs, telling themselves that the person has had a hard enough time living with the disability – why shouldn’t he or she be able to enjoy smoking a few joints or drinking a few beers?
  • Substances can be used to self-medicate emotions or symptoms. The challenges of living with a disability are, at times, overwhelming. Some disabled individuals turn to alcohol or drug use in the belief it will relieve the pain of negative emotions, such as anger, frustration, sadness, or guilt. Furthermore, many substances numb physical symptoms as well.
  • A person with a disability may not have access to proper treatment. Physical disabilities and mental health conditions, such as impaired visions or severe depression, leave some individuals essentially trapped in their homes.

Dangers of Substance Abuse for Those with a Disability

  • Drug and alcohol abuse hampers proper medical care. Many disabling conditions require ongoing treatment. Individuals who are abusing substances are less likely to comply with medical advice regarding their disability. For instance, they may miss physical therapy appointments or neglect to take medication that requires adherence to a strict schedule. Unfortunately, not adhering to treatment can make their condition worse, creating even more problems for them.
  • Many substances interfere with prescription medications. Another danger involves the way substances, especially alcohol, interact with certain medications. For example, the combination of alcohol and certain antidepressants can impair a person’s alertness and ability to think clearly, according to the Mayo Clinic.
  • Drug or alcohol abuse worsens some conditions. For instance, a person with a spinal cord injury is already more vulnerable to chronic bladder infections. Alcohol use further irritates and inflames the bladder, as well as interferes with certain medications used to treat infections.

Living with a disability has a serious impact on a person’s well-being, but the addition of alcohol or drug abuse further reduces quality of life. If you have concerns about substance abuse in yourself or a loved one, contact a drug and alcohol treatment center today. The sooner you get the help you need, the sooner you can get on the road to recovery.


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