Rehab for the Deaf: Is There Such a Thing?

Rehab for the Deaf: Is There Such a Thing?

Substance abuse does not spare anyone in terms of identity, social background, or disability–this holds true for addiction in the deaf community. However, many people with hearing impairment and substance use issues wonder if there’s treatment available and suitable for them. Learn more about deafness and substance abuse, and what to look for in a rehab center.

Many people dealing with drug or alcohol abuse suffer in silence because of social stigma. They think that seeking help for their issues would lead to judgment from others, even when treatment options are available. There’s another group of people who suffer in silence–those who think that there might be no help available and wonder, “Is there a thing such as deaf rehab?”

Deafness and Substance Abuse

Substance abuse exists in the deaf community. There are several studies that explore the prevalence of addiction among the deaf and hard of hearing. According to a study published in the JADARA (the Journal of the American Deafness and Rehabilitation Association), people within this subgroup are less likely to have access to treatment and resources for the following reasons:

  • Low percentage of community-based programs for substance abuse in the deaf community: Not all communities have inclusive programs to address substance abuse. Some people are under the impression that people with disabilities are not likely to have addiction problems, but this is far from the truth.
  • Limited census information about people with hearing problems and substance use disorders: Census data can help alert governing bodies and other entities about the need for rehab centers for the deaf. Without data, entities do not know the extent of the problem and how to address the matter.
  • Lack of awareness about how substance abuse affects the deaf population: Having a hearing impairment often impacts the way people communicate with others. Thus, the way substance abuse affects the deaf community may be different, and their treatment options may need to be modified. The Institute for Research, Education and Training in Addictions (IRETA) noted that people with hearing impairments suffer from addiction less likely to have access as their hearing counterparts.

The above reasons illustrate that people who are deaf and have substance use disorders are an underserved population.

If you or your loved ones are deaf or hard of hearing and are suffering from addiction, know that you are not alone. We hope that this post will serve as a guide to access substance abuse treatment for the deaf.

What Causes Addiction in the Deaf?

Just like their hearing counterparts, there are several reasons why people who are deaf begin to abuse substances. The deaf community is diverse. Their stories are different. Some people have been recently diagnosed with hearing impairments, while others have had their conditions since birth or developed them early in their lives.

There are various reasons why some deaf people are susceptible to addiction:

  • Isolation: According to Dr. Marie Egbert Rendon in an article published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, the feeling of being isolated is a major cause of continued drug and alcohol use among the deaf. Some people have admitted that taking substances is their means to cope with feelings of isolation.
  • Cultural influences: The deaf community often displays a sense of solidarity in the way they represent themselves. This can be seen in the general population as well as in subgroups among deaf people. If a group of deaf individuals engage in alcohol or drug use, cultural influences can determine whether people start and continue substance use.
  • Recent diagnoses: Some people with hearing impairments are not born with them but acquire them through illnesses, accidents, aging, or other causes. More recent hearing problems may upset individuals, prompting them to cope by using unhealthy means such as taking illegal drugs, drinking alcohol, smoking, or abusing prescription medications.
  • Life with a disability: People with hearing impairments or deafness may face life struggles related to their disability. As they mature and progress through different stages in their lives, they may feel that their struggles are too much to bear. Living with hearing conditions may cause anxiety, depression, self-esteem issues, and other psychological problems that may lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Causes of substance abuse in the deaf community are as varied as causes in the hearing population. Treatment options must be accessible for all people, regardless of their backgrounds or disabilities.

One of the first steps before seeking treatment is recognizing the signs of addiction. If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from substance abuse, below are some of the signs that can help you confirm and seek professional help as soon as possible.

Signs of Addiction

Signs of addiction are similar for people both in the hearing and deaf populations. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-V), there are eleven criteria that characterize substance use disorders:

  • Hazardous use: You find yourself using drugs or alcohol to the point where the use endangers your life and the lives of others. Examples of these risks include experiencing overdoses, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or taking reckless actions related to substance use.
  • Relationship problems: Substance abuse affects all areas of your life, and one of the main byproducts may be your interactions with others. You may notice that your use of drugs and alcohol has negatively impacted your relationships with friends, family members, coworkers, and other people.
  • Neglected roles: It is difficult to complete tasks at home, school, or work. You may have trouble fulfilling responsibilities due to substance use.
  • Legal problems: You have problems with law enforcement related to your addiction, such as problems relating to the possession of illegal drugs, theft, indecent acts, and other violations.
  • Withdrawal: When attempting to quit or decrease your use of drugs or alcohol, you experience negative physical and psychological symptoms. Nausea, vomiting, flu-like sensations, muscle pain, anxiety, depression, and irritability are some common withdrawal symptoms.
  • Tolerance: You notice that you consume more drugs or alcohol than you previously consumed in order to experience the same sensations or feeling of being high. As the brain becomes accustomed to substances in the system, a tolerance for drugs or alcohol may develop.
  • Prolonged and increased substance use: Using larger amounts or drugs or alcohol or spending more time using them could intensify users’ dependence on the substances.
  • Repeated attempts to quit or minimize use: You may have recognized a growing substance dependency and have tried to quit or control your use. But when you do so, cravings and withdrawal may take over, making it a challenge for you to abstain from drugs or alcohol.
  • Increased time spent using: Your usual routine may consist of using drugs or drinking alcohol for larger parts of the day than you did before.
  • Physiological and psychological problems: Addictions can also cause physical problems such as organ damage, pale or bluish skin, drastic weight loss, breathing issues, and an overall unhealthy appearance. Psychological problems related to substance use may include agitation, irritability, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
  • Avoidance of activities due to addiction: You may have abandoned interests or hobbies since developing a substance use problem. Failing to show up when expected, losing motivation, or quitting previous hobbies may be other glaring signs of addiction.

Meeting any of these criteria may indicate a substance use disorder. If you notice these signs in yourself or a loved one, seeking professional assistance will allow you to take the first steps toward addiction recovery.

Are alcohol and drugs ruining your life?


Challenges in Treatment

Each person struggling with an addiction has his or her unique challenges. This holds true for people in the deaf community, as there may be obstacles that hinder them from seeking the treatment that they need. Here are some of the treatment challenges you may face. Knowing the challenges may help you anticipate them and find solutions that work:

  • Communication problems: Seeking substance abuse treatment for the hearing impaired may be challenging, especially if they are required to use the telephone or other less accessible ways to communicate. Communication issues may also occur during assessment and treatment within rehab facilities.
  • Lack of expert knowledgeable with treating deaf people: Deaf individuals with addictions may have specific struggles that the hearing community may not be able to easily understand. Many experts can empathize with the hearing community, but may not have the training or experience to provide services for people with hearing issues.
  • Limited availability of support groups: It may be difficult for deaf individuals to find support groups they can truly identify with. Support groups that use sign language or communicate in ways other than verbal speech are needed in rehab for the deaf.

If you are looking for ways to fight an addiction, congratulations! You are taking a positive step toward recovery. As you recognize these challenges, it is important to know what you need to look for in a rehabilitation center.

What to Look for in a Rehabilitation Center

There are many centers offering addiction treatment, but only a handful may cater to the needs of the deaf community. If you are looking for drug or alcohol rehab for the deaf, here are some features you may want to consider:

  • Accessible: For addiction treatment to work, you must find an alcohol or drug rehab for the deaf that offers accessible options. Your choices may include centers that present various alternative communication options such as American Sign Language (ASL), SEE-II (Signed Exact English), or the use of technology devices. Sunshine Behavioral Health centers employ individuals who are willing to work with your communication needs to provide effective treatment.
  • Inclusive: A truly inclusive center states that all people who suffer from addiction deserve equal care. Inclusive rehabs ensure that your diverse characteristics are not disadvantages to your treatment, but rather factors that may encourage specialized care.
  • Expertise in the field: Rehab centers that recognize the need for addiction treatment in the deaf community are likely to provide more expert care than other facilities that utilize a one-size-fits-all approach to client care. At Sunshine Behavioral Health centers, we ensure that people with hearing impairments receive the customized care that they need to succeed in treatment and enjoy lasting recoveries.
  • Acceptance of disability-related insurance: Hearing issues are sometimes considered disabilities that may provide insurance benefits. You may be able to arrange financing for your addiction treatment by looking for a center that accepts disability-related health insurance.

Rehabilitation for the Deaf

If you are contemplating addiction treatment, you may wonder how the whole process works. Substance abuse treatment for the deaf often uses similar processes as the hearing community, but with special modifications. Here is an example of a treatment process for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals:

Step 1: Written communication and personal visits

Deaf individuals may contact rehab centers through email, electronic, or text messages to ask about treatment options and verify their insurance coverage. They may also conduct personal visits to determine if rehab centers are the right fit for them.

Step 2: Assessment

Clients undergo assessments for their substance use conditions. They may bring sign language interpreters during these times, or centers may have interpreters available. Assessment procedures may include answering questionnaires and/or completing lab tests. The assessments help steer the course of treatment options.

Step 3: Treatment

During this step, clients undergo treatment either as inpatients or outpatients in rehab facilities. Inpatients typically stay in centers for 30-, 60-, or 90-day intervals. Outpatient services may include a program to follow at home, or clients can also visit facilities to participate in activities. While in treatment, clients are free to communicate in any way they find comfortable, such as signing, gestures, written communication, or lip reading with accompanied verbal approaches.

Step 4: Aftercare

To ensure recovery success, there must be an active approach to prevent addiction relapse. Aftercare options after people leave treatment may include continued counseling and psychotherapies, support groups, nutrition and fitness plans, as well as relapse prevention protocols. These resources are provided in the communication formats that deaf individuals find comfortable.

Hearing Impairment Is Not a Hindrance to Addiction Recovery

Do not allow lack of options cause you to think twice about seeking help. With perseverance, you can find quality centers that provide accessible and inclusive care for the deaf community. Hearing impairment shouldn’t become a deciding factor to treat your addiction. You can find effective help no matter who you are.


  • – Comparing Outcomes from an Online Substance Abuse Treatment Program and Residential Treatment Programs for Consumers Who Are Deaf: A Pilot Study.
  • – Substance Use Services for Deaf Communities: What Are the Issues?
  • -Deaf Culture and Alcohol and Substance Abuse
  • – 10 Frustrations People with Disabilities Face Every Day.
  • – DSM Criteria for Substance Use Disorders.
  • – Difficulties Deaf People Face
  • – “Benefits and Insurance for People with Disabilities

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