Disability and drug addiction: is there a connection?

One of the most important steps in helping someone overcome an addiction problem is understanding why he or she chose to begin abusing the substance to begin with. These underlying factors come in many different forms,  according to Desert Hope Treatment Center, but one that is becoming more common is the presence of a disability.

“Disability” is a short term with a long definition. Disabilities can be physical, mental, or a combination. They can be persistent or episodic; that is, some conditions are the same all the time, while others are subject to unpredictable flare-ups that interfere with the person’s normal life.

Whether it’s around-the-clock or only at the whims of an unpredictable body system, a disability can be directly linked to a predisposition to substance abuse. Families and friends of disabled people need to be aware of these connections, because no matter how good treatment can be, prevention is always better.

Here are some of the things that drive substance abuse if someone if disabled:


A disability is something that no amount of love or support can take away. As much as our friends and relatives want to help us, the simple fact is that their visits end the same way every time: they go on about their able-bodied lives, and the disabled person returns to the loneliness of a normal day.

Despair is a daily experience for the disabled person. When a condition is permanent, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. There will be no restoration of sight for most blind people, no strengthening of a weakened heart, no healing of a failing back.

Looking down the rest of your life with the knowledge that your burdens will never get lighter is an incredibly difficult thing to cope with, and as many people do, disabled people often cope by abusing drugs or alcohol.

Self esteem

One of the most powerful forces to keep people from substance abuse is the knowledge that people are counting on them. Whether it’s an employer who can’t function without you or a family who needs you to be the breadwinner and the caring parent, there are people in everyone’s life who motivate them to stay on the straight and narrow.

When someone has a disability, that reliance is reversed. Not only is the person unable to go out and contribute financially to the family or to help with the domestic necessities of family life, he or she feels like an added burden that requires help with daily tasks that most adults don’t need. This can shatter their self-esteem and leave them so broken that substance abuse becomes their coping mechanism.

Chronic Pain

Many people don’t perceive the depth and persistence of pain that many disabled individuals experience. They believe that someone who is unable to use his or her legs must not be able to sense pain in them either.

The fact is that many people with permanent disabilities not only have reduced function of some kind, they also have increased pain. Chronic diseases and disabling injuries cause pain, and many people with these conditions must use powerful medications to keep the pain under control. Because of their established conditions and the ready availability of opioids, many disabled people end up abusing pain killers and become addicted.

The permanency of disabilities presents a real challenge to those who support the disabled person. There is a lifetime of helping him or her to avoid problems with substance abuse, so plans must be made to maintain continuity of care. It takes vigilance, but it can save a life.

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