Addiction is a cage. But the bars of this cage are weak and can be broken. Though too often, the unfortunate person in this cage just sits and contemplates on their prison sentence. For them, escape is an impossibility – the thought never even graces their mind. The prisoner’s loved ones and friends watch from the other side of the bars. They can do nothing but watch the devastation. 

Can this scenario get any worse? Yes. Addiction is a terrible disease to endure, for both the addicted individual and their loved ones. But what if the addicted individual also suffers from a physical disability? For starters, people with physical disabilities are far more likely to abuse drugs than the rest of the country. But people with disabilities are also less likely to seek treatment, as a result of a failure to access services that other people can.

The Connection Between Shame and Disability

Many people with physical disabilities might reject society and become hermits. Such isolation makes substance abuse both more likely and more dangerous. In addition, there will be no one in their lives to help them and to make them seek treatment. For these reasons, addiction or alcoholism and disability are a lethal combination. 

What is a Physical Disability?

A physical disability is a condition that affects a person’s physical functioning, dexterity, stamina, or mobility. ‘Physical’ implies a reduced ability to perform body movements, like swimming or running. Other physical disabilities can impair various aspects of our lives, such as blindness, sleep disorders, and respiratory problems. Any medical disorder that affects how we interact with the world is a physical disability.

What are Some Common Physical Disabilities?

Is Drug Addiction a Disability

There are many kinds of physical disabilities. However, all physical disabilities are classified into two main groups. 

Musculoskeletal disability

A disability that affects muscles, joints, tendons, nerves, cartilage, and spinal discs are called a musculoskeletal disability. Such disorders are the single most popular workplace injury and account for 30% of all worker’s compensation costs.

Musculoskeletal disabilities are preventable. Typically, they are caused by risk factors. Let’s say a workplace responsibility is outside the worker’s capabilities. Not only does the task require the worker to forcefully exert themselves but it also makes the worker get into awkward positions that puts pressure on joints and muscles. When these workplace responsibilities are performed with great repetition, eventually they will cause musculoskeletal injuries.

Neuromusculoskeletal disability

A neuromusculoskeletal disorder affects the neurons that control muscles and the neurons that send information to the brain. Muscles move as a result of messages from the neurons. Communication between the central nervous system and muscles begins to break down if these neurons are unhealthy. 

Generally, neuromuscular disorders can be treated to improve quality of life, but they are not curable. Neuromuscular disorders can include;

  • Peripheral Neuropathy
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
  • Lambert-Eaton Syndrome

How Can Substance Abuse Develop in Those Suffering from Physical Disabilities 

According to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Paralysis Research Center, substance abuse occurs more often in the disabled population than in the general population. In fact, more than 50% of people suffering from traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, or mental illness also suffer from addiction.

People with physical disabilities are more likely to become substance abusers for a number of reasons. 


People with physical disabilities are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed. This could be because people with physical disabilities lack social skills and confidence to perform adequately in the workplace. 


People with physical disabilities are more likely to be isolated with few other recreational activities to participate in besides drugs or alcohol. Some people with physical disabilities will find bars to be the only places where they could participate in social activities. 

Low Self-Esteem

People with physical disabilities will have low self-esteem based on their disorder. As a result, they might feel depressed and require drugs or alcohol to feel better.


Sadly, people with physical disabilities are much more likely to become victims of abuse. They might be perceived as unable to protect themselves and defenseless. Aides working in treatment centers could sexually abuse disabled patients. The abuse builds up, requiring some to seek drugs and alcohol to ease the pain.

Why People with Physical Disabilities are Less Likely to Seek Drug or Alcohol Treatment

Disability and addiction

Although people with physical disabilities are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, they are less likely to seek treatment. A host of unfortunate reasons makes it more difficult for such individuals to attain the necessary drug treatment. 


Seeking drug treatment is much more difficult for someone with a physical disability. This fact alone often discourages such individuals from even trying to get help. First of all, people suffering from physical disabilities are less likely to be able to get to treatment centers. Drug rehabilitation consists of going to inpatient, outpatient, and regular group sessions. If someone is physically disabled, it is much more difficult to attend such sessions on a regular basis. 


All physical disabilities present unique problems for someone trying to seek treatment. Someone who is deaf, for example, will need someone who could sign during therapy. Someone with a severe brain injury will require a unique learning system, including the treatment specialist assessing the brain-injured patient’s ability to read and write, and essentially, comprehend the messages of the drug counseling.

Physical therapy

Many rehabilitation facilities incorporate exercise as an integral part of treatment. For those with physical disabilities, exercise may not be possible. As a result, these individuals may not receive the total benefits of rehab.

Is Drug Addiction a Disability?

According to Social Security, a disability applicant will not be approved just because he or she is a drug addict. Social Security does not consider addiction a disability until the addiction causes irreversible medical harm. On the disability application, there is no longer an ‘addiction’ box to check. However, there is a list of medical conditions, commonly caused by chronic drug use, that could qualify individuals for disability benefits.

  • Liver damage
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Personality disorder
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Brain damage
  • Pancreatitis
  • Depression
  • Gastritis
  • Seizures

The answer to “is drug addiction a disability” is no. However, the most common medical disorders caused by addiction do qualify someone as disabled.

Substance Abusers with Disabilities Have the Same Rights as those Without Disabilities

When Addiction and Physical Disability Co-Occur

Substance abuse treatment for people with physical disabilities is a particularly difficult road. According to the previous section, many addicts with disabilities assume that their specific situation is untreatable. This is complete malarky. Often, such logic is just a justification NOT to enter rehab and to continue using. However, according to the Americans with Disability Act, health care services should be accessed by everyone equally.

The purpose of the Americans with Disability Act was to ensure that people with disabilities are able to enjoy the same rights and freedoms as everyone else, especially healthcare rehabilitation.

  • Title I – Everyone is entitled to reasonable accommodations even if specific measures need to take place.
  • Title II – Everyone is entitled to the same services as they pertain to services, programs, and activities in public education, corrections, and the courts, etc.
  • Title III – This section specifically addresses the requirements for sober homes, health care facilities, and other private businesses that serve the public.

Dual Diagnosis Programs Provide Addiction Treatment While Also Focusing on Mental Health Needs

Imagine a person with brain damage gets admitted to a drug rehabilitation facility. Unless this individual is treated properly, with both medical disorders affecting his or her treatment plan, sobriety will unlikely be achieved. For example, this patient could be an addict because of their brain damage. Without proper treatment, acknowledging the patient’s brain damage, addiction treatment may not be properly implemented.

Reach Out to Coastal Detox Today 

Most detox facilities should be able to treat patients with drug addiction or alcoholism and disability. Coastal Detox, for example, is fully equipped to handle physically disabled patients also suffering from addiction. Coastal Detox prides themselves on their ability to provide any patient with the same detox services, such as medical detox, as everyone else. As long as the individual, or their representative, informs Coastal Detox about the disability that they possess, such specific needs will be accommodated.