Overview: Physical and mental disabilities are challenges in themselves, and data shows that they can often be compounded by a substance abuse issue. When these two problems co-occur, the individual is said to have a “dual diagnosis.” Dual diagnoses occur when patients self-medicate, struggle with anxiety or depression, or have substance abuse issues that were present before the disability that went untreated.
Substance Use And Disability
Substance abuse disorders tend to form among people for whom the misuse temporarily solves some sort of a problem. This problem can be interpersonal, occupational, physical, or emotional, and disabled people often struggle with all of these categories. People living with disabilities can struggle with unemployment and are more likely to experience severe mental health concerns in addition to their disability. Often, the disability can lead to more social isolation. They also have a higher rate of homelessness and may not be able to access shelters.
For people with disabilities, this can mean:
- Substances are used as self-medication to manage chronic pain or other conditions. In conditions where pain is a chronic problem, such as spinal injuries, up to half of sufferers have an abuse problem.
- Using allows them to escape their problems for a short period of time.
- It may suppress symptoms, allowing them to function at work or in relationships. For example, somebody with a sleeping disorder may take substances to feel alert.
- The substance use disorder has simply remained untreated as doctors focus on the disability instead. This is particularly true of older Americans, who tend to have a higher rate of substance abuse in the first place.
Why Treating Substance Use Matters
Substance use often interferes with treatment and rehabilitation in ways both subtle and direct. One of the more fundamental problems is the issue of tolerance. Over time, anybody will develop a tolerance to medication and will need more of it. In extreme cases, the medication will become ineffective, making management of the disability more difficult.
In other cases, some substances may interfere with medication, speeding up or slowing down its effects, or cause problems with medical devices such as catheters. It may cause financial problems that make paying for needed medication and treatment more difficult.
Most importantly, however, substance use is often tied to more serious problems that need to be treated. Mental or physical disabilities can create incredible pain and turmoil in someone’s life, including loss of a job, homelessness, divorce, related medical problems, and loneliness or social isolation.
Regardless of a person’s ability, these are circumstances that can cause a wide range of mental health struggles, which in turn open the door to substance use. In these circumstances, treating the substance use without treating the concern won’t be effective.
Building a supportive environment addresses these problems and can lend support so the individual can deal with other issues. A positive mental health environment can help people with disabilities manage their treatment, sort out their concerns, and address them in a positive, healthy way.
Harris House Can Help
To learn how we can help build a supportive environment for people with dual diagnoses, contact us.