Addictions are intensifiers. If you have a physical disability, an addiction can worsen your discomfort and increase your limitations.
Addictions and physical illness can also intertwine. Addressing just one problem allows the other to worsen.
Addictions complicated by physical limitations can be treated. They must be addressed at the same time, and your doctor must take your history into account when developing your recovery plan.
In this guide, we’ll outline addiction’s connections to three types of disabilities:
- Chronic pain
- Movement disorders
- Learning disabilities
After reading this guide, you’ll understand how each condition relates to drug abuse. You will also understand how treatment works. Let’s get started.
What Is Chronic Pain?
Pain tells your brain that something terrible is happening to your body. Those signals help you to move away from the injury source, so you can limit the amount of damage you endure.
When you are safe from danger, the pain should fade. Sometimes, it doesn’t. When the pain signal persists longer than 12 weeks, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) considers it chronic.
An injury, like a broken leg from a car accident, can trigger chronic pain. Illnesses like cancer can also cause unrelenting pain. But some types of persistent discomfort come from no reason doctors can spot.
Finding the source and measuring the intensity of discomfort isn’t easy. There are no laboratory tests that can detect and quantify pain. Instead, doctors ask their patients where the pain is, what it feels like, and how long it lasts. These descriptions can be imprecise, but they’re all medical professionals can use to develop a treatment plan.
Many people have these conversations with their doctors every year. In fact, NIH says about 20 percent of American adults have chronic pain.
Ongoing discomfort can have a significant impact on your daily life. You may feel misunderstood and isolated, which can worsen your pain. Movement can intensify the sensation, which can lead to muscle wasting and increased discomfort. You may also experience depression due to your ongoing situation.
Some of the methods doctors use to treat pain can lead to substance abuse. That can enhance the misery.
Safe and Unsafe Ways to Treat Chronic Pain
Opioid medications are marketed as “painkillers,” and they are considered front-line therapy after an injury.
Unfortunately, these medications don’t actually treat pain. In some cases, they make the discomfort worse. If you’re dealing with an addiction, these substances are especially hazardous for you.
Opioids work by increasing brain dopamine levels. This chemical signal is interpreted as pleasure or joy, and when it’s present, the brain seems to ignore pain signals. The trigger for the discomfort isn’t gone, but you find it easier to ignore.
In the short term, opioids can help you move past the pain. But long-term use is associated with big problems. According to NIH, about 5 percent of people who take these medications as directed for a year will develop an addiction to those drugs.
That addiction can develop slowly. You might take a little more with each dose, or you might crush your pills instead of swallowing them. Your brain cells are changing and growing dependent on opioids, but you may not notice that shift.
At the same time, your body may stop responding to opioids, and your pain may worsen. The National Institute on Drug Abuse calls this hyperalgesia, and it’s characterized by increasing pain sensation. Your condition may be no worse, but your body might not agree with that diagnosis.
When you have chronic pain and addiction, it’s vital to stop taking these painkillers. A detox program can help you to wean off substances like this, so your brain can begin to heal.
Your doctor can use a variety of therapies to address the root of your pain, such as:
Physical Therapy – Building strength and enhancing flexibility could make each movement easier.
Massage – Sore tissues can benefit from the increased blood flow massages can deliver.
Non-Opioid Medication – NSAIDs and other therapies can ease tissue discomfort without causing addiction-related brain changes.
Steroid Injection – Medications placed inside inflamed tissues could alleviate your distress.
As your body heals, you can begin addiction treatment to develop trigger resistance. When you have the urge to use drugs, your therapy can help you to stay strong and sober. Your doctor might use individual therapy, group therapy, support group work, and more to help you unpack your addiction and develop resistance.
What Are Movement Disorders?
Your body and brain should work in harmony. Signals from your neurons should travel down the nerves to pull your muscles into smooth movement. Any disease that interferes with this process is a movement disorder. In this article, we’re going to focus on two such conditions: Parkinson’s disease and arthritis.
Parkinson’s disease typically develops around age 60, says the National Institute on Aging, and it is characterized by:
Stiffness – Moving your muscles is difficult, especially if you’ve been resting.
Slowness – Running, waving, and other fast movements may be difficult.
Shaking – Tremors in the arms, legs, and head are common.
Falling – Impaired balance and poor coordination can make navigating the world difficult.
Arthritis can cause some of the same symptoms. For example, some forms of arthritis cause stiffness in the joints, and that pain can make fast movement hard. But arthritis can strike younger people. In fact, according to the Arthritis Foundation, two-thirds of those with arthritis are ages 18 to 64.
Movement disorders are linked to the development of addictions. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse connects Parkinson’s disease and methamphetamine abuse. Chronic use of drugs breaks dopamine receptors apart, and the lack of functional dopamine receptors can lead to Parkinson’s disease.
But movement disorders can also come with frustrations, and they can lead to drug abuse. When you can’t move as you want to, and when your day is studded with pain or discomfort, drugs can seem like a good solution.
Alcohol, for example, can prompt a sense of euphoria and relaxation. The evening cocktail can seem to soothe the day’s distress. Over time, your single cocktail can turn into four or five drinks. Soon, you may be drinking an entire bottle at night.
When addictions and movement disorders happen together, recovery is possible. You will need to address both issues at once.
Safe Ways to Treat Movement Disorders and Addictions
Ongoing pain is often treated with opioids. If you’re taking these substances to cope with discomfort, you’ll need to move through detoxification. Here, your body will adjust to a lack of drugs, and brain cells will heal. Then, you can work on building up sobriety skills.
At the same time, you will need therapies to ease your movement issue.
Physical therapy can be helpful for both Parkinson’s disease and arthritis. Your treatment program might include:
Assisted Stretching – A combination of heat, massage, and gentle stretching can loosen stiff, sore muscles.
Adaptive Devices – Occupational therapists can show you how to use modified keyboards, altered silverware, or specific walkers to help you move despite your disability.
Strength Training – Weak muscles mean an enhanced risk of falls. Exercises can help you build muscle fibers.
Speech Therapy – If the muscles or joints around your mouth are the targets of your disease, your therapist can help you to work with them to speak clearly.
Pain remains a trigger for substance abuse, especially if you’ve used drugs or alcohol to blunt discomfort in the past. Just because you can’t use painkillers doesn’t mean you have to live with the aching.
Your doctor might recommend capsaicin cream. This pepper-infused ointment can enhance blood flow to sore areas, and the heat it delivers can distract you from your disease symptoms. Your doctor may use splints to keep joints still, so you have less ongoing damage.
Your doctor might suggest heat or ice packs to help you move through difficult moments. Work closely with your doctor. Ensure that the symptoms don’t pull you back into drug use.
Some movement disorders can be treated with surgery too. Your doctor might use deep-brain stimulation to address shaking from Parkinson’s disease. Some forms of arthritis respond to operations that remove burrs inside joints.
Surgery can be painful, and sometimes, doctors use opioid therapy to ease post-surgical recovery. For some people, this can be dangerous.
But if you take your medication as directed, and you limit the length of your prescription, you could lower your risk of addiction recurrence. Your doctor can tell you more.
What Are Learning Disabilities?
Learning disabilities make processing information difficult. People with these issues can be exceptional scholars, wonderful coworkers, and talented researchers. But they may need to take added steps and/or time when presented with some types of information. Just as physical disabilities and movement disorders can lead to addictions, so can learning issues.
There are several different learning disabilities, including:
Auditory Processing Disorder – Causing a disconnect between sounds heard and noises perceived by the brain.
Dysgraphia – This affects fine motor skills used in handwriting.
Language Processing Disorder – Which causes difficulty in attaching meaning to spoken words.
Dyslexia – This affects processing skills used in reading.
Dyscalculia – This creates an inability to understand math facts or numbers.
ADHD – This makes focus and attention difficult to sustain.
Disabilities like this are often caused by chemical changes or deficiencies in the brain. Just like physical disabilities, they can involve an intersection between genetics and the environment. But unlike their physical counterparts, learning issues often come with a stigma.
In a 2014 survey, 43 percent of people said learning issues are correlated with intelligence. In other words, they thought people with learning disabilities weren’t as smart as those without them.
This is just one example of the stigma that comes with learning disabilities. That can have dangerous consequences.
In 2001, researchers found that learning disabilities could lead to substance abuse, as they cause:
- Reduced self-esteem.
- Difficulties in school.
- Persistent depression.
- Loneliness and isolation.
- The need to fit in.
This is the same list of risk factors associated with drug abuse. It’s easy to see how a disability can make life so difficult that drugs seem like the answer. In time, that drug use can lead to addiction.
Recovery from addiction involves learning. Therapists want you to understand what happened in your past to make drug use seem like a solution. They want you to pick up sobriety skills you can use and create a healthy life that doesn’t involve drug use.
If the thought of learning all that information worries you, put your mind at ease.
Therapists can use modifications to therapy. For example, if you struggle with:
Writing – Your doctor may suggest an oral journal exercise rather than a written one.
Reading – You may be given audiobooks to listen to rather than books to read.
Hearing – You may be given transcripts of peer studies rather than listening to your peers speak.
Attention – Your sessions may be kept short, and you may be encouraged to walk around as needed.
Find the Right Kind of Help
Your doctor wants you to get better. That means your doctor will adjust your plan, so you have the tools you need to get recover.
Some learning disabilities require additional addiction help. For example, people with ADHD may struggle with impulse control. That is part of the spectrum of issues the condition causes, and it’s not a character fault. That issue could make relapse more likely, however, as you may be tempted to call your dealers on rough days. Your therapist may consider inpatient care for you, so you’re protected from making poor choices.
Tailored treatment programs take your needs and preferences into account. Work closely with your doctor, and ensure these programs give you what you need as you get better.
When you’re dealing with a disability and an addiction, you need a tailored program. In theory, all recovery providers should give you that help. Not all of them do.
Make the right choice by asking questions before you enroll. You can ask:
- Have you treated someone with my condition before?
- What are the credentials of the people who will treat me?
- What kind of therapy will be used in my recovery plan?
- How will my doctor be involved?
- How will my treatment approach change as I change?
- How much control will I have over my plan?
If you’re looking for help with a complex issue like this, we can help. We specialize in tailored addiction treatment programs.
We’ve helped many people just like you, and we’d like to see if our programs are right for you. We have operators available to answer your questions now. Call us to find out more.