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How Are Physical Disabilities And Alcohol Abuse Connected?

People who have physical disabilities may be more inclined to reach for alcohol when times get tough. The stress and pain that people with disabilities experience on a regular basis may be hard for some to handle, leading them to a dependency on alcohol or another substance.

What Are Physical Disabilities?

A disability is a condition of the mind or body that makes it more difficult to function. People with disabilities may experience difficulty performing certain tasks. A physical disability is one that affects the body and limits mobility, hearing, or vision. Physical disabilities are often accompanied by chronic pain and large amounts of stress.

There are 61 million adults in the United States that live with disability.

  • 26% or 1 in 4 adults have a disability
  • 13.7% of adults have a mobility disability
  • 5.9% have a hearing disability
  • 4.6% have a vision disability

People with disabilities experience barriers every day that cause them stress and anger. Barriers may be physical, programmatic, attitudinal, social, or communicative. They may also have to do with policy and transportation issues. Because of these barriers and the everyday challenges disabled people must endure, they may believe that drinking is the only way out.

What Causes Disability?

Disability can be caused by a variety of different factors, including accidents, birth defects, and family history. Some people may experience their disability from birth while others may be jarred by the lifestyle change.

Physical disabilities include:

  • Arthritis
  • Severe back pain
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Epilepsy
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Spinal cord injury

Disabilities Caused By Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction can cause many severe health problems, such as cancer, heart disease, and peripheral neuropathy. If someone drinks heavily on a regular basis, they may be more susceptible to diseases and disorders that might label someone as disabled.

Does Alcohol Addiction Affect Eligibility For Disability Benefits?

When it comes to disability benefits, having an alcohol addiction may bar people from receiving benefits. To receive these benefits, people with addictions will have to show evidence that proves that their addiction isn’t material to their disability.

If they’re able to prove that their addiction is immaterial to their disability, benefits may still be granted. Basically, if the disability were to still exist without the addiction, benefits would be granted. To ensure that benefits can be received, and to save themselves from potentially dangerous side effects of alcohol addiction, addicts should receive treatment as soon as possible.

Using Alcohol To Manage Pain Associated With Physical Disabilities

Many physical disabilities are accompanied by chronic pain. Chronic pain is described as a pain that lasts longer than 3 months. Chronic pain may be hard for some people to manage, and 28% of people with chronic pain turn to alcohol as a long-term pain management solution. However, using alcohol as a method for pain management is never a good idea. While it may seem like a short-term solution, it will only cause more problems in the future.

When someone drinks regularly, their body builds up a tolerance to alcohol. This means that the sedative, pain-healing effects will be harder to reach, and people will drink more and more each session in order to achieve the same effects.

Withdrawing from alcohol can also cause increased pain sensitivity. If someone uses alcohol to manage their pain, when they stop drinking their pain will only increase. On top of that, if they’re using regular pain medications to manage their symptoms, mixing alcohol with those medications can be dangerous.

  • Mixing alcohol and acetaminophen can cause acute liver failure.
  • Mixing alcohol with aspirin can increase one’s risk of gastric bleeding.

Using Alcohol As An Escape

While many turn to alcohol to manage their pain, some also use alcohol to deal with the emotional turmoil that comes with being disabled. Adults with disabilities experience mental distress 5 times as frequently as adults without disabilities, with 32.9% of adults experiencing frequent mental distress. Mental distress is defined as experiencing 14 or more poor mental health days within 30 days.

Mental health disorders are often caused by a singular traumatic event or long-term exposure to trauma, which is a known risk factor or developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Mental health is also a common risk factor for developing an alcohol use disorder, especially depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.

When people experience trauma or poor mental health, they may feel inclined to turn to alcohol to drown out the internal noise and stress. Using alcohol as a coping mechanism frequently leads to dependence, and there are many other healthy coping mechanisms that can diminish this stress and anxiety without risking one’s health.

Receive Treatment For Alcohol Addiction

Being addicted to alcohol can cause devastating effects to one’s life. Both conditions will worsen when addicted to alcohol. As detoxing from an alcohol addiction can cause serious symptoms, including an increase in pain sensitivity, people with disabilities will benefit greatly from detoxing under medical supervision, such as in an inpatient treatment facility.

If you’re ready to seek treatment and start your journey into recovery, contact a treatment provider today.

  • Author: Megan Prevost | Last Updated: July 27, 2022

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    Megan Prevost

    Megan Prevost earned a B.F.A. in Creative Writing for Entertainment from Full Sail University. Her work has appeared in many different publications, and she’s held columns and guest spots on LGBTQ+ and entertainment websites. Previously, she’s written copy and content for both law firms and healthcare clinics. She is proud to be able to use her writing ability to help the addiction and mental health communities.

  • Medical Reviewer: Deborah Montross Nagel

  • Sources