Sensory Impairment and Substance Abuse

Sensory Impairment and Substance Abuse

Addiction can be an isolating experience, and battling it often requires a strong support system. Seeking rehabilitation and dealing with feelings of loneliness can be daunting obstacles, but they must be surpassed in order to get through withdrawal to attain sobriety. Unfortunately, these challenges are only compounded for people also living with sensory disabilities.  

A study by the National council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) found that at least 600,000 people who are classified as deaf also live with an alcohol use disorder in the United States. Despite this statistic, the number of rehabilitation facilities that cater to the needs of people with hearing loss is disproportionately lower as compared to the prevalence of those for able-bodied individuals (Treating Alcoholics).  Since people who are visually or hearing impaired have limited options for rehabilitation, this may discourage them from seeking help at all. When they do take this step, many are forced into programs that don’t take into account their specific needs. For instance, individuals that experience vision loss may not be able to read literature offered in self-help groups, do homework assignments on their own, or even have easy access to the rehab facility’s buildings. People with sensory disorders may also have difficulty connecting with others in group therapy, making the road to recovery feel all the more challenging and isolating to them. 

There are many simple steps a rehabilitation center can take to help people with these disabilities, fostering success rather than isolation. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the addition of braille signs and the implementation of counseling treatment activities that are not sight-based can help people in the blind community take charge of their rehabilitation experiences. Staff that are trained in treating co-occurring disorders are another advantage of attending these specialized rehab centers, as they can anticipate and address the specific needs of these demographics. Group therapy with others who happen to experience vision or hearing loss is also very helpful, as it serves as a stronger support system. While all recovering addicts are united through their understanding of the devastating impact of drugs and alcohol abuse, individuals who are also blind or deaf can sympathize with each other on a deeper level. Feeling alone is a common obstacle in beating addiction, so having people with whom they can discuss specific struggles and coping-mechanisms makes for a more physically and emotionally successful recovery (Finding Capable).

The feeling of isolation, however, is not just a problem that these people are faced with during rehab, as it may actually contribute to rising rates of drug addiction among individuals with sensory disabilities. Children growing up visually or hearing impaired in today’s society can be subject to cruel treatment. Some are alienated by peers who have never been educated about the cultures of the deaf and blind communities or how to respect fellow students.  Not only are these individuals at a higher risk for bullying, but studies have shown that they are also less likely to have effective communication with their parents. It is common for parents to learn to read braille or speak sign language to better connect with their children, but having parents who can not take this kind of initiative due to a lack of resources is correlated with low self-esteem and depression (Overcoming Addiction, 2020). Yet another factor that is strongly correlated with poor mental health is physical and sexual abuse, and people who are deaf and blind are also disproportionally targets of such violence. Having a sensory impairment increases a child’s risk by an astounding 31% (Addiction Treatment, 2020).  Because these risk factors are all correlated with depression, they also make these children more susceptible to substance abuse as they develop unhealthy coping mechanisms.

This relationship between sensory disabilities, poor mental health, and addiction raises even more concern for the shortage of rehab centers for people in the blind and deaf communities. In addition to ensuring there are more options for such individuals seeking rehabilitation programs that will fit their needs, education about drugs and the dangers of addiction should be promoted. While this is usually a part of school curriculums, children with sensory impairments attending mainstream schools, either by choice or due to financial restrictions, may not have the same access to this information as their able-bodied counterparts. This topic may also be written off as a secondary component of their education and excluded in order to allot time for perfecting other skills that they may need to thrive in school, like reading braille (Overcoming Addiction, 2020).  However, increasing awareness about these dangers within these communities and recognizing the importance of mental health is essential to their wellbeing and should be prioritized.  



Addiction treatment for the deaf and blind individual. (2020, September 30). 

Overcoming Addiction for the Sensory Impaired. Rehab 4 Addiction. (2020, December 23). 

Finding Capable Treatment Programs for Blind Alcoholics. 

Treating Alcoholics Within the Deaf Community.

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