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Disability and Addiction: Substance Abuse Among the Physically Disabled

Disability and Addiction: Substance Abuse Among the Physically Disabled

You may have never thought of this, but disability and addiction are more tight-knit than you think. It’s understandable why a lot of individuals with disabilities who require continuous medication treatment may become subjects of substance abuse. Today, our Stuart, Florida Banyan Treatment Center is diving into substance abuse in the physically disabled, signs to look out for, and how we can help.

What Is a Disability?

A disability is defined as a condition or function judged to be significantly impaired compared to the usual standard of an individual or group. The term also refers to individual functioning, including physical, sensory, cognitive, intellectual, and mental disabilities and various types of chronic diseases. 

Common types of disabilities include: 

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Learning disabilities
  • Mobility disabilities 
  • Medical disabilities
  • Psychiatric disabilities
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) 
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Visual impairments 
  • Deaf and hard of hearing
  • Concussion
  • Autism spectrum disorders 

More specific examples of disabilities include: 

  • Amputation
  • Arthritis
  • Autism
  • Blindness
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Deafness
  • Developmental disorders
  • Down Syndrome
  • Dwarfism
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Paralysis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Prader-Willi Syndrome
  • Spina bifida

A disability is a multidimensional experience for the individual. There are various effects on the person’s mind, body, and the way they interact with others. Three dimensions of disability are recognized: body structure and function, activity, and participation. 

Disabilities are also classified according to the role of physical and social environmental factors. Therefore, disabilities can impact a person’s vision, hearing, thinking, ability to learn, movement, mental health, memory, communication, and ability to socialize. Disabilities can impact people in various ways, even when one person has the same type of disability as another person. Some disabilities may also be hidden, which are otherwise known as invisible disabilities. 

Link Between Disability and Addiction 

An addiction and disability can tragically become a pair. People with disabilities are more likely to suffer from substance use disorders than the general population, and they’re also less likely to receive the medical detox or addiction treatment needed for sobriety. 

The inverse can also be true. Individuals with drug or alcohol addictions are more likely to become disabled, either through accidental injury or as a result of long-term drug or alcohol abuse. 

Approximately 23 million people in the U.S. – including people with disabilities – need substance abuse treatment. People with disabilities may face additional barriers to addiction treatment, particularly when finding eligible treatment centers. While some studies have shown higher rates of legal and illegal drug use among people with disabilities than the general population, others have shown the contrary, making it difficult to pinpoint the full scope of this issue.3 

Individuals with disabilities battle unique stressors and challenges, such as social perspectives that see them as outsiders, an inability to qualify for certain careers, lack of access to certain benefits, and an inability to participate in certain activities to the extent that they would like. Many are also unemployed and did not graduate from high school, making it more likely that they’ll live in poverty. 

People who have disabilities are also more likely to be victims of violent crimes and struggle with health conditions like obesity and smoking. As you can imagine, all of these factors can contribute to a depressed state, which is why depression, anxiety, and unhealed trauma are common among individuals with disabilities. 

Due to challenges like mental illness, physical disability, lack of benefits and support, and others mentioned above, people with disabilities are likely to seek out comfort in drugs and alcohol. Furthermore, there’s a connection between disability and addiction to painkillers.  

People with disabilities are often prescribed strong prescription medications to battle painful conditions, and many of these medications have a high potential for abuse. Prescription opioids are particularly effective painkillers yet are among the most addictive drugs on the market. 

Did you know that people with disabilities are more likely to abuse opioids? Opioids are so addictive that even individuals that closely follow short-term prescription directions can easily become dependent and hooked. Once disabled individuals develop an addiction to prescription drugs, they will often switch over the cheaper alternatives, such as heroin. 

The physical and psychological risks of drug abuse are heightened for people with disabilities due to their existing conditions. In these cases, the body is more vulnerable to the drug’s effects. 

Is Drug Addiction a Disability?

Simply put, yes, drug addiction is a disability. Substance use disorders are considered disabilities in the U.S. under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Section 15557 of the Affordable Care Act.1 

Federally funded state agencies, also known as State Disability Determination Services (DDSs), are responsible for providing medical evidence and the initial determination or diagnosis of whether the person has a disability or not. Being that substance use disorders are disabilities under the ADA, individuals with addictions may be entitled to receive behavioral health services and benefits. 

However, this applies to situations where an impairment – or disability – persists outside of drug or alcohol use. According to the SSA, this decision involves:9 

  • Establishing that the individual has a disability 
  • Confirming medical evidence of the person’s drug addiction or alcoholism
  • Determining whether the individual’s impairment would continue even after they’ve stopped using drugs or alcohol 

If the individual is eligible to receive paid benefits, then the SSA requires that they receive drug or alcohol treatment at an approved facility and that they comply with the terms, conditions, and requirements of the treatment. Paid benefits offered to people with disabilities include Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). 

Addiction Treatment at Banyan Stuart 

Individuals with substance use disorders may struggle with underlying conditions that they’re unaware of. They may have several questions about the levels of addiction care, medications, and disability services.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, our Stuart, FL rehab center can help. We offer various substance-specific programs – such as opioid addiction treatment – that provide detox and psychotherapy to help the individual heal both physically and mentally. 

For more information about our addiction services, call Banyan Treatment Centers today at 888-20-4763



  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - DRUG ADDICTION AND FEDERAL DISABILITY RIGHTS LAWS
  2. SSA – Code Of Federal Regulations: Drug Addiction and Alcoholism
  3. SAMHSA - Substance Use Disorders in People With Physical and Sensory Disabilities


Related Reading: 

Substance Abuse in the Elderly

The Truth Behind Elderly Alcoholics

Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
Disability and Addiction: Substance Abuse Among the Physically Disabled
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