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Finding a Treatment Center for People with Disabilities

Public and private service providers, including addiction treatment centers, are required by law to make specific arrangements that allow individuals with disabilities access to their services.

A Contrast of Terminologies

In 1980, the Democratic National Committee proposed using the term differently abled in place of the terms handicapped, people with disabilities, and disabled. The use of this term was designed to reduce any stigma associated with having a type of identified disability; however, the term never really replaced these older designations. Some facilities still use the term differently abled.


The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) ensures that public and private service providers provide equal access to services for all individuals. This act requires that people with disabilities can access goods and services provided by the majority of providers in the United States.

The act does not specifically cover private dwellings like homes, but any type of treatment intervention for substance abuse that is being offered to the public, even if it is in a private residence, is covered under the act. The legislation includes people who have cognitive, emotional, and physical disabilities, such that all of these individuals should have equal access to treatment for substance abuse issues under the law

Disabilities and Substance Use Disorders

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, at least 75 million people have some type of disability. About 7 percent of this group (about 5 million people) share a substance abuse issue with an identifiable form of a disability.

There is very little reliable data that breaks down the type of substance abuse that often occurs in individuals with specific types of disabilities.

People With Disabilities Who Are Seeking Treatment for Substance Abuse

Disabled person considering treatment

Although it can be determined that people with disabilities are at least as likely to have substance use disorders as people without disabilities, the research indicates that if you have an identified disability and a co-occurring substance use disorder, you are only about half as likely to seek treatment as someone who does not have a disability.

People with disabilities who get treatment for their substance abuse issues are just as likely to achieve a positive outcome from treatment as anyone else. Thus, the data suggest that people with disabilities and comorbid substance use disorders are underserved regarding treatment.

If you have a specific disability and are seeking treatment for a substance abuse issue, you need merely to contact a prospective treatment provider to learn what accommodations they have in place for you. If your situation is extreme or specialized, you can potentially find a treatment provider that can assist you through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 

An Increased Risk for Substance Abuse

Although there is little reliable information on the specific types of disabilities that make someone more prone to substance abuse, there is data from SAMHSA that identify some specific risk factors associated with substance abuse issues in disabled persons.

You may be at an increased risk if:

  • You have chronic pain. You are then particularly at risk for alcohol or opioid abuse.
  • You have been abused.
  • You have a cognitive problem or other mental health disorder.
  • You are in a low-income group.

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Other Considerations

Research findings reported by SAMHSA indicate that people with disabilities may be more prone to abuse alcohol or tobacco products compared to other potential drugs of abuse. People with disabilities may be frequently prescribed medications like opioids or benzodiazepines, and these are potential drugs of abuse. 

Having a disability can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. These factors are associated with an increased risk of abuse drugs or alcohol. Many people with disabilities find they have reduced access to other opportunities like gainful employment and education, increasing their risk for substance abuse.

SAMHSA also reports that there are specific barriers to getting treatment for substance abuse issues for people with disabilities. These barriers should be addressed by substance use disorder treatment providers:

  • Architectural barriers that restrict entrance or the ability to move freely within the treatment facility
  • Barriers to communicating with treatment providers that can restrict your ability to effectively relay your issues
  • Negative attitudes toward people with certain types of disabilities
  • Discrimination against people with disabilities

The Burden Falls on the Treatment Provider 

It is up to the treatment provider to address and correct any issues that inhibit equal access and opportunity for disabled individuals. It is not up to you, if you have a disability, to make special accommodations for the treatment provider.

Doctor looking over the file of a disabled person in addiction treatment

Based on the principles of effective substance abuse treatment as outlined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):

  • The treatment program should follow the overall guidelines for effective treatment but make suitable adjustments for individual differences. This includes adjustments for specific types of disabilities.
  • People with disabilities should be able to receive the same level of medical detox, therapy, access to peer support groups, and access to other services as other people with substance use disorders.
  • People with disabilities should be able to engage in treatment for the same length of time that a person without a disability can participate. 
  • Your disability should in no way interfere with your access to treatment services. 
  • Treatment providers should consult with experts if they have questions regarding how to handle specific situations for you. They should receive specialized training in the assessment and treatment of individuals with disabilities.


If you have a disability and are entering treatment for substance abuse, consider the following: 

  • You should have adequate access to the same interventions that others get, but this does not necessarily mean you are getting special privileges.
  • Like others in treatment, you should expect to be held accountable for your recovery and actions.
  • Treatment providers should offer appropriate referrals for you if they do not believe they can accommodate your needs.

You will be integrated into the standard treatment protocols offered for everyone in the program.


(2019) The meaning and origin of the expression: Differently abled. The Phrase Finder. Retrieved April 2019 from

Information and Technical Assistance on The Americans with Disabilities Act. Retrieved April 2019 from

(January 2011) Substance Abuse & Individuals with Disabilities. United States Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved April 2019 from

Behavioral Health Services Treatment Locator. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved April 2019 from

(January 2007) A population-based study on substance abuse treatment for adults with disabilities: Access, utilization, and treatment outcomes. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. Retrieved April 2019 from

(July 2012) TIP 29: Substance Use Disorder Treatment for People With Physical and Cognitive Disabilities. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved April 2019 from

(January 2018) Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved April 2019 from

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