Alcoholism and People with Disabilities

In 2020, a study found that nearly 30% of alcohol abusers in the UK lived with a disability [1].

Research suggests that individuals who live with a disability in the UK are more likely to experience the risk factors associated with alcohol dependency, such as low self-esteem, disempowerment, and living with cognitive limitations [2].

What Causes Those With Disabilities to Become Addicted to Alcohol?

A woman staring sadly out of an office window

The statistics paint a frightening image of how those with disabilities can suffer from alcoholism, but why is it so prevalent?

The reality is that there is no single reason, but several which can influence some people more than others, or combine to trigger addiction.

1. Depression and Anxiety

Person looking sad

Disabilities have a huge impact on an individual’s capacity to live their life as normal.

They can restrict physical movement, their ability to use public transport, or their confidence in doing things by themselves. Everyone can suffer differently, and unemployment is common.

These kinds of restrictions can force individuals to give up things that they previously enjoyed (if they have developed their disability over time), or miss out on what others do, fuelling feelings of helplessness, anxiousness, or depression.

Alcohol can become a way of dealing with this. Individuals can drink to forget that they can’t do the things that they used to, or if they have always had their disability, they might drink to forget that they can’t do the same things as their friends.

2. Self-medication

Alcohol addiction

The toll that disabilities take on the body can sometimes bring pain and discomfort to them.

Chronic pain is a common symptom of many disabilities, sparking consistent pain in muscles and bones that medications struggle to numb.

Additionally, disabilities can also cause mental pain. Individuals can live with intense trauma from a disability-causing accident, experiencing intense pain, regret, and anger.

Alcohol’s pleasurable effects can therefore become a way for disabled individuals to self-medicate for the discomfort they live with every day.

When they get sober, they can then drink again to keep feeling numb and pain-free, slowly developing a dependency.

3. Boredom and social life

Table of smiling people clinking alcoholic beverages

As noted above, disabilities can greatly reduce an individual’s freedom. They can lose out on old hobbies, possibly also losing touch with the friends they once spent a lot of time with.

To combat this boredom, individuals can fall into drinking on multiple nights a week. With more consistent use, they can develop a high tolerance to alcohol and therefore consume higher quantities to keep enjoying it.

Alternatively, individuals might continue spending time with their friends but drink more often as a social event. This shift in preference for alcohol can lead to higher quantities being consumed on a more regular basis, leaving them more vulnerable to dependency.

Hidden Disabilities

old woman smiling

Sometimes, it can be those who do not seem to be suffering who are struggling the most. While many disabilities are obvious, affecting movement, appearance, and speech, many can also be hidden, and unnoticeable to others.

Many learning disabilities, for example, work like this. Individuals can struggle to learn or remember things, reducing their capacity to work or socialise with others. These disabilities must be remembered as alcoholism can impact these individuals too.

How Does Alcoholism Impact Individuals With Disabilities?

woman in wheelchair

Alcohol is a dangerous substance, capable of impacting the body on a chemical and hormonal level.

Excessive consumption leaves individuals vulnerable to a variety of impacts, and these can be particularly dangerous for those who live with a disability.

The impacts of alcoholism include:

  • Higher risk of developing serious health conditions – such as liver disease or cancer – which can increase the pain individual life with
  • Decline in mental health and outlook, worsening a disabled individual’s potentially already poor mindset
  • Alcohol poisoning, which can be more impactful for those with weaker immune systems
  • Financial troubles and bankruptcy, which can leave individuals without the necessary funds for medications or treatments for their disability
  • Social isolation and tension with family members whom a disabled individual might depend on for day-to-day help

Detecting Alcoholism in a Disabled Individual

Man lying down with his hand over his head

Alcoholism is already a difficult condition to spot, but identifying whether an individual with a disability is suffering can be particularly difficult.

This is because several of the warning signs of alcoholism can also indicate disability-triggered depression.

There are, however, many indicators that are specific to alcoholism. In general, the things to look out for are:

  • An individual becoming isolated from others, avoiding friends and family, or no longer attending events or social gatherings
  • An individual no longer taking care of their appearance, their attitude to others, or their responsibilities like taking medications or attending treatment sessions
  • An individual being drunk consistently or in unusual situations, such as in the morning or public
  • An individual hiding alcohol in their home, or being deceptive when others ask how much they are drinking

What You Can Do To Help

Woman support

If you think you have spotted a few signs of alcoholism in the behaviour of someone you know, there are many ways that you can help.

Especially when that individual lives with a disability, they must get the right support, and the recovery process can be kickstarted in several ways.

1. Talking to the individual

The most common way to help an individual with their alcoholism is to talk to them about it. Try approaching them on a one-on-one level, enquiring as to their alcohol intake and gently trying to find out if they are drinking too much.

If an individual rejects your efforts to help, an intervention might be needed. These see an individual’s family meeting together to address the alcoholism. When a disability is involved, these events can focus on how an individual might be hurting themselves.

2. Doing your research

If you do not feel ready to confront an individual, you can also help by looking into how you can best support them. There are multiple options for doing this. You can look online to learn more about alcoholism via the NHS website, or you can get in touch with your GP.

Learning more about the impacts of alcoholism and how it is treated can boost your confidence in approaching an individual about their drinking, and also provide you with an understanding of the condition that you can use to let them know that you can help them.

3. Helping them get started

Once you have helped an individual identify that they need help, you can further support them by guiding them into the recovery journey. Rehab can be very daunting for someone needing treatment, so making this process as easy as possible will be a huge help.

You can do this by researching what suitable alcohol rehab options are available in your local area, or by accompanying an individual as they are assessed or as they attend their first day in treatment.