It is commonly accepted that around 10% of the general population in this nation experiences alcoholism while another 5% experiences an addiction to drugs. People who experience traumatic head injuries or spinal cord injuries are known to also experience substantially higher rates of substance abuse issues than people who experience intellectual disabilities, however. Despite this fact, people with disabilities as a whole have many more risk factors than people in the general population in the United States.
The year 2002 found 33.2 million adults in the United States experiencing a form of Serious Mental Illness (SMI). Out of this population of people, 13.4 million or 40.4% experienced only their form of SMI, while 15.7 million or 47.4% experienced only a substance abuse disorder. From this population of people 4 million or 12.2% experienced both an SMI and a substance abuse disorder. A cautious estimate of the number of adults with a substance abuse disorder and a form of disability is around 4.7 million people in the United States.
People with Intellectual Disabilities and Substance Abuse
The integration of people with forms of intellectual disabilities into their communities as the United States evolved socially found them being exposed to substances such as drugs and alcohol as well. Adults with intellectual disabilities are usually less likely to use drugs or alcohol as a population than adults without intellectual disabilities. They tend to live with family members, friends, or caregivers who provide them with a certain level of monitoring and because of this they receive the opportunities to engage in adult choices, yet find themselves limited by the presence of those who provide care for them.
Despite the presence of caregivers, opportunities to abuse drugs or alcohol still exist. Some people with intellectual disabilities do not use drugs or alcohol, while those who do are more likely to develop an abuse issue. A study performed in the year 2010 reviewed Medicaid health care billing claims and came to the conclusion that 2.6% of all people who experience a form of intellectual disability had a diagnosable substance abuse disorder. Other estimates using different methodologies present statistics suggesting rates of drug and alcohol abuse among people with intellectual disabilities as high as 26%.
When a person who experiences a form of intellectual disability also has a form of mental illness - referred to as a, 'dual diagnosis,' the estimates of co-occurring substance abuse range from 7% to as high as 20%. The numbers are shocking, particularly when compared to substance abuse among people without forms of intellectual disabilities who experience a form of mental illness where rates are estimated to be 7.6%. The notion that people with intellectual disabilities do not use drugs or alcohol is clearly a myth.
People with intellectual disabilities who are also substance abusers have some unique traits in common. As a group they tend to start drinking alcohol a couple of years later than people without intellectual disabilities; they are also less likely to be Caucasian. Members of this group are unfortunately less likely to pursue help for substance abuse and even if they do seek help, the resources that are helpful for people in the general population often times do not accommodate their needs. In addition, members of this group are at high risk of complications from drinking because they tend to be prescribed medications for other conditions such as metabolic disorders, seizures, or co-occurring forms of mental illness that have the potential to negatively interact with drugs and alcohol.
Treating people with disabilities who experience drug and alcohol abuse issues involves a number of things. None of the things involved with treatment are inexpensive or easily accomplished. Among the things involved in treatment are:
There are millions of students in special education programs in the United States. Unfortunately, there are very few substance abuse prevention programs in place that address this population of students and their learning needs.
An estimated 68% of adults with disabilities are not involved in the workforce, despite the fact that the majority of them would like to participate. Substance abuse has a significant role in this statistic. One estimate suggests that around 25% of people with disabilities who participate in vocational rehabilitation programs also experience a significant secondary issue with substance abuse.
Health care and hospital costs are exceptionally high for people with disabilities. Alcoholics who remain untreated, on average, incur general health care costs that are at least double those of non-alcoholics. The disparity may continue for more than a decade before they enter into a treatment program. The costs and rates of alcohol-related hospitalizations among people with disabilities are much higher than they are for people in the general population in the United States.
People who experience forms of hidden disabilities, such as mental illnesses, learning disabilities, or attention deficit disorder are a substantial sub-population of people with disabilities. The disabilities they experience have been linked to increased rates of substance abuse. Sensitivity to disabilities within the chemical dependency treatment community would increase the effectiveness of treatment and better address the needs of those who are currently clients.
A number of reasons exist in regards to why this is such a dilemma. For example, substance abuse prevention, intervention and treatment services are not attitudinally, physically, financially, or cognitively accessible to people with disabilities for a variety of reasons. Many people with disabilities struggle with recurring substance abuse issues and become frustrated with efforts associated with rehabilitation, employment, and integration into society. The economic costs related to drug and alcohol abuse and people with disabilities are huge when taking into account governmental obligations in vocational rehabilitation and medical ones, as well as education, social security, job development, and public assistance.
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