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Physical Disabilities and Addiction


teenage girl with disability addicted to pills

Addiction, also known as substance use disorder, is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic, relapsing brain disorder. It is characterized by compulsively engaging in rewarding stimuli without regard for consequence. A young person that struggles with addiction will put satisfying his or her drug and/ or alcohol cravings above all else, which can wreak havoc in all areas of one’s life. There is an undeniable correlation between young people with physical disabilities and addiction. According to Addiction Center, “persons with disabilities are substantially more likely to suffer from substance use disorder than the general population…conversely, persons with addictions are more likely to become disabled, either through accidental injury or through long-term side effects of substance abuse.” Research has found that young people with physical disabilities experience addiction two to four times higher than those without. 

What Is A Disability?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a disability as “any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions).” Common examples of physical disabilities include:

  • Paralysis
  • Deafness
  • Blindness
  • Amputation 

A disability can last differing lengths of time; depending on the type of disability it could be short-term, long-term or lifelong.  

Risk Factors For Addiction

Unfortunately, the reality is that young people with physical disabilities are at increased risk for developing substance use disorder. Additional contributing factors that have been noted to play a role in the development of substance use disorder include the following examples, as provided by Medical News Today:

  • Family history of addiction
  • Genetics  
  • Method of delivery
  • Personal health history
  • Age at which a person first began to consume drugs and/ or alcohol
  • Environment (e.g. growing up in/ living in an unhealthy home environment, persistent peer pressure, regular exposure to illicit substances and/ or alcohol, etc.)
  • Exposure to childhood neglect, trauma, and/ or abuse
  • Type of substance abused

It is important to note that not every teenager with a physical disability that uses drugs and/ or drinks alcohol will go on to develop an addiction. However, continuous and frequent substance and/ or alcohol use can increase one’s susceptibility to developing a tolerance and subsequently an addiction. Substance use disorder does not develop overnight, nor should a teenager expect his or her recovery from addiction to be instantaneous. 

For Information and Support

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.

Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family. We can be reached by phone 24/7 at 800-531-5769. You can also contact us via email at

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