Deaf Struggle To Find Addiction Treatment

Deaf addicts

Isolated and Underrepresented: Deaf Addicts

The decision to get help for substance abuse is not an easy one, now imagine that after making the choice to get clean or sober there is no rehab facility that will take you.

This is the reality for many of the addicts in the Deaf community.

Stress, isolation and a lack of resources tend to put deaf people at a higher risk of using and abusing drugs or alcohol. Sadly, there are fewer treatment options available to them for many of those same reasons.

Debra Guthmann, former president of the National Association on Alcohol, Drugs, and Disability said that around 1 of 7 deaf people in the United States has a drug or alcohol addiction. Compared to 1 out of 10 hearing people.

Not only is there a higher percentage of the Deaf community fighting addiction, studies show that deaf people tend to start using earlier and that their misuse is typically more severe.

This is equated to the added challenges that they must face when it comes to abusing drugs or alcohol.

Most of the information on drugs, alcohol and addiction are rarely translated in to a medium that can be used for the deaf community.

This leaves them less informed about the dangers of addiction than hearing people are.

This is not to say that the community itself doesn’t teach the younger generations about drugs and the possibilities of becoming addicted. Just that formal teachings aren’t as readily available.

“The hearing didn’t want me and the deaf didn’t want to be around me,” Christina, who chose to keep her anonymity, said about her addiction. “I struggled for 20 years.”

Laura Kolb, executive director at Deaf Think Positive, which is a nonprofit that specializes in addiction treatment for the deaf, explains that often times deaf offenders are either let off or incarcerated right away with no thought of treatment. The legal system doesn’t know what it should be doing in that situation because many treatment centers aren’t set up to help addicts who are deaf.

Road Blocks from the Beginning

deaf_treatment_1Marie Hoffmeister, who is deaf and in active addiction said, “I’ve struggled and fought for weeks and weeks, and they say ‘We can’t serve you, we can’t find interpreters for you, you won’t have communication access’ and it’s been extremely frustrating.”

Tabatha Patrican is also deaf, she has been in recovery for over a year is trying to help Hoffmeister find treatment.

She said, “For three weeks we’ve gone through interviews, the paperwork process – What if she died tomorrow? The state (should) be responsible for her death if that were to happen.”

For a deaf person who is looking for treatment the road blocks start right away. In most cases admission starts which a voice phone call, which poises a problem, he or she has to get a hearing person who also knows ASL to make the call for them.

Patrican said, “Hearing people can walk in and immediately have services, but for deaf people there is always a delay.”

She explained, “I have lost two deaf people from drugs and they died because there was no treatment available to them.”

The process of just getting into a treatment center should not be this hard. If anyone wants treatment they should be able to obtain it.

Hoffmeister said, “It’s time to change, it has to be time to change. People want to come back from this, but they can’t. There’s nowhere for them to go because there’s no communication access.”

One thing facilities could do to help the issue of not being able to call them is to train staff members to use phones that have TTY options.

TTY will allow a deaf person who is calling to type what they want to say and the program will voice it to the person on the other line. When the hearing person talks the program does the reverse and transcribes what is being said.

Receiving Treatment

If someone who is deaf and addicted happens to get through the first road block, there are deaf_treatment_4plenty more to maneuver when it comes to actually receiving treatment.

One of the main issues is getting an interpreter so there can be open and free communication, which is extremely important during treatment.

The problem is that there might not be an interpreter available during the duration of treatment. If the addict finds one and the facility will allow the interpreter, an outside person who is not receiving treatment to be there, having an interpreter can make them feel like an outsider which is not conducive to treatment.

If the interpreter isn’t trained in addiction or recovery it could make it frustrating for the addict to try to explain what they mean more than if they were talking to friend or someone who had more knowledge.

Mara Toman, Deaf Think Positive Assistant Program Director, said that most people don’t understand that there is a vast difference between deaf and hearing cultures.

Kijana, who asked to keep his anonymity, said that programs that were made with hearing people in mind frustrated him.

“I tried to learn about the 12-steps but I didn’t get it … so I was in and out, in and out,” he said.

Communication and emotional expression are both very important to treatment. Someone who is deaf has different ways of doing both.

“With oral you just miss, miss, miss,” said Toman, “It goes through the ears, but we’re through the eyes.”

Jennifer Macioce, Director of Day Treatment & Deaf Services at Milestone Centers, Inc., explained an encounter one of her clients had with her primary care doctor. She didn’t have an interpreter with her but her doctor felt that she understood what she needed to because he wrote everything down for her.

In reality she ended up bringing the instructions to Macioce to translate. It was written in big paragraphs that she couldn’t understand.

Since ASL and English don’t directly translate situations like this happen often.

Group therapy is another big issue that addicts who are deaf have to overcome. While it is a staple in addiction treatment it’s a difficult thing for someone who is deaf to partake in.

Mary-Alice Olson, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who is specialized in working with Deaf, explained the problem with group therapy, “A deaf person may be the only Deaf person in the group at the time.”

If that is the case, an interpreter is going to be needed. By the time an interpreter signs what someone in the group says and is ready to speak the response, the conversation will most likely have moved on, making it very difficult for the deaf person to participate.

Lack of Aftercare Leading to Relapse

deaf_treatment_3Eveleen Cunningham a licensed alcohol and substance abuse counselor, who has been in recovery for over 30 years, said that there is a high rate of relapse with deaf individuals because they don’t have the same access to treatment and aftercare.

After care is vital to someone staying in recovery, it gives then a support system and people to call on when he or she feels like using.

Gretchen Hoffer, LPC is a counselor in the Pittsburgh who specializes in substance abuse and therapy for the deaf and hard of hearing said, “After they complete residential treatment, they go to individual therapy only once a week … It’s simply not enough.”

Christina explains this more thoroughly, “The problem is that, the deaf addicts need more than treatment. After treatment we are suggested that we go to a 12-step program and most 12-step programs are not interpreted … We are very limited but there is hope, and we must not give up.”

Working on Solutions

There are a mountain of problems when it come to a deaf addict getting the help he or shedeaf_treatment_2 needs, but there are some people and organizations that have ideas and are trying to make it easier.

Cunningham said, “(Massachusetts) Governor (Charlie) Baker has funded a lot for Opioid treatment and addiction recovery, but nothing specifically for deaf individuals that would be available around the clock … We need funding, we need treatment options that focus on the continuum of services for substance abuse, including 12-step programs adapted for deaf individuals so they can understand and access it.”

In the 2015 fiscal year Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing provided 6,389 hours of interpreting in response to 3, 427 requests.

To put that in perspective, 30 days in rehab equates to 720 hours including the time spend sleeping and 60 days in rehab equates to 1440.

While that means there were a lot of unanswered requests, Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is doing what it can to help.

It can be difficult to find treatment facilities that are accessible to deaf addicts, but there are some that specialize in helping those that are looking for treatment.

Deaf Think Positive is a nonprofit that is, according to them, 1 of around 10 centers nationwide that has addiction treatment for the deaf and blind, and it’s one of the only ones that has deaf counselors.

Deaf off Drugs and Alcohol can help find resources for people who are deaf or Hard of Hearing find a treatment center and get the most out of its program.

Hoffer believes that one of the best ways to help solve this problem is to have 4 or 5 beds set aside in a hearing facility and hire staff who can sign and understand the culture.

This would give the deaf addicts a small group so they can participate in group therapy and curb the cost of hiring interpreters for each deaf individual that needs treatment.

More often than not the Minnesota Chemical Dependency Program or Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals is referred to as the gold standard.

MCDPDHHI uses what’s known as a cross cultural approach. Its staff has an understanding of deaf culture and is fluent in ASL.

Hoffer also thinks that Deaf culture should be a mandatory training, “Just as service providers receive training for issues related to nationality or culture, gender, and race, they also should become aware of the needs of Deaf … as its own distinct culture.”

A simple adjustment that everyone can make is to see deafness as a difference, not a disability; Just like deaf culture does.

This change is arguably one of the most important steps in helping deaf addicts find and stay in treatment.

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59 comments
  1. Disappointed to see “tty” Deaf people nowadays use videophone. Almost no one has tty anymore. ” should hire person who knows sign and understand Deaf culture ” I think that’s nice but I think you should really hire Deaf aod expert. Why not Deaf person run the program after all we know our people. There is so many jobs that hearing people can apply for when there is so limited positions for the Deaf. Everything else you said was right on the nose. I am recovering addict and there is almost to no resources for the Deaf here in Ohio Deaf off Drugs and alcohol program got shut down. If not for my daughter I would be dead or in jail.

  2. Im am in Florida, USA please I need help finding a program for the deaf, I will travel if need be just need help!

  3. My daughter Kristen grew up with Tabitha I looking for an inpatient Drug addiction program for the deaf Is there any in the US?

  4. Hello, I am looking for detoxification treatment for my Deaf brother who is struggling with alcoholism. Will the Minnesota treatment be available?

  5. I am a substance abuse counselor in Missouri currently working with a deaf individual who is extremely verbal and has been mainstreamed his who life and his ASL skill level is low. What are the Inpatient treatment options available for the deaf and hard of hearing?

  6. This is an unpleasant experience. I want to suggest that the government should make provision for them because they form part of their communities.

  7. This is a real issue. How do deaf individuals get the drug? There recovery may take time but with Detox To Rehab, they will surely have it.

  8. Thank God a deaf addict has a better chance of recovery now on like before when they were neglected. Detox to rehab thank you for sharing this wonderful information.

  9. The issue is people who don’t have any challenge can visit the rehab centres and explain themselves. How will these group of people go about it?

  10. This is a really sad and touching experience to go through for deaf people. The cycle looks more hard for them. Detoxtorehab always tries to bridge these gaps and I really do enjoy all they do.

  11. This is the reality for many of the addicts in the Deaf community. Group therapy should be encouraged to cut the cost of hiring interpreters for them and use the other fund to provide much need drugs for them

  12. Honestly I find this disturbing. I have a bro who has physical challenges and I can see that he has already more than enough issues as it is. I cannot imagine him diving into this. I guess what I am trying to say is disabled or not drugs will always be bad news.

  13. This post proves that the deaf community goes through so many challenges in substance abuse. The best way to help them find solution to their struggle is to do everything in power to make life comfortable for them to overcome their addiction.

  14. This is an eye opening post. I did not know that the deaf faces challenges when it comes to addiction but helping them is the key solution to finding solution. Finding interpreter for them will go a long way in getting them through recovery.

  15. This is actually my first time to this. Yu know reading about deaf addicts. There inability to live life like normal people is a disadvantage on there own side already which very worrying , it gives them reason to choose this kind of life. It is really a nice development to know there is a way out for them too.

  16. Most deaf addicts finds it hard to get recovery due to their challenges and disability. This makes it hard for them to struggle in finding treatment. The best solution to hep with their struggles is to employ an interpreter for them, who can help through their recovery process.

  17. This is sad I hope the authority involved can help the deaf addicts so that they get really informed when people that need to educate offer a better medium for it.

  18. What a Great Piece of Information contained in the Article!
    As it is Said, Deaf should be considered as a Difference and not a Disability.

  19. Disappointed there’s little deaf rehabilitation centers available. I hope detox can look into this and make effort on it.

  20. Deaf people are also people. And by that they deserve to be helped, especially in leading desirable lives and staying drug clean. More efforts and initiative should be instituted to make them inclusive within the community.

  21. I can imagine the struggle both the dead addict and their counsellor may go through, but is it possible all these treatment center have standby interpreters so as not have any case of any deaf person dying.

  22. Hello, I am looking for detoxification treatment for my Deaf brother who is struggling with alcoholism. Will Austin Texas provide deaf rehab or treatment be available?

  23. Programmes that look into identifying, managing and rehabilitating addiction should be properly funded and made available for people battling addiction.

  24. Thank you Detax to rehab for sharing these type of stories with all of us.These stories are really very much inspirational for many people.

  25. Hearing impaired people are seriously having problems getting recovered. Thanks to Detox To Rehab for taking up the responsibility.

  26. The drugs and alcohol addicted people have no access to adequate health care that can facilitate their coming back to the society. It calls for urgent attention.

  27. One in seven deaf people are addicts and this rate is quite high and alarming for many people and rehab centers who tend to treat such addicts. Life could be really hard for a deaf drug addict as he might find it harder to deal with their addiction due to their disability. I just hope that rehab centers do something about it.

  28. Oh wow, that’s a high percentage of people into drug addictions. I wish there were a way to help most people to recover their lives.

  29. Deaf addiction is a terrible situation. Nonetheless, the zeal to overcome the challenge has yielded a positive result through a recovery sought.

  30. I think it’s high time we show more love for deaf people, their disabilities shouldn’t be a people. This is a great invention and more people should acxept and share.

  31. Most materials I have seen are for people without disabilities, more reason this should be looked into. Let care for others like the deaf, let them see programs that can help the live a fulfilled life

  32. Though it seems hard for these set of people but the best solution will always be to get clean. I hope they have a good determination to quit and make this in written by dropping it in the Rehab centres suggestion box. Getting clean is always the best decision.

  33. I’m so glad these counselors are leading the way for a serious problem in the deaf community that has been overlooked. Effective communication and intervention is definitely an issue for deaf culture struggling with addiction. Recognition of this and finding specialized treatment solutions is very important, so everyone’s needs are met.

  34. I wasn’t aware that deaf people statistically tend to start using drugs much earlier. I wonder what the government is doing to fix this.

  35. Indeed, deaf addicts are isolated and underrepresented. Thanks for sharing their story and bringing more attention to the matter.

  36. Why not Deaf person run the program after all we know our people. I hope they have a good determination to quit . This makes it hard for them to struggle in finding treatment. I cannot imagine him diving into this.

  37. Is it that their ill health condition forced them to go addictive than 1/10 of normal heating people? It’s a pity for the deaf, but alcohol addiction isn’t an ideal solution for them. Being deaf isn’t the end of the world for the person, their is plenty to enjoy.

  38. There is another type of problem with the people of deaf community in getting clean, which I have known today with this article. Thanks for sharing

  39. I can only imagine how frustrating it can be, trying to get help but being rejected because of disability. The disabilities not just deaf alone are already going through a lot, now being rejected when they need help.
    Government and all concerned agencies should work on this quickly.

  40. Learning that addiction dont choose people. If your having disability and been involved into drugs you have double strugging dealing with recovery. It really needs full attention to them.

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