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Drugs and the Deaf

By Lindsey Honchar

An Analysis of Drug and Alcohol Use in The Deaf Community

Form a fist with your thumb laying flat against your index finger:  (A)
Then slide the thumb across your fingers (S).
To finish, pull your thumb out and outstretch your index finger (L).


ASL (American Sign Language) is used by a large portion of Americans to communicate with the Hard of hearing or Deaf community.

Though the use of ASL is widespread in America, there is still a large portion of the country who can neither understand nor use the language. The frustration and isolation caused by the language barrier on deaf children can have an effect on the psyche, especially for those in adolescence. the stress caused by the barrier, leads to the societal pressure on the Deaf to get cochlear implants. Implants are seen by the hearing society as the only way to live, and it's common among members of the Deaf community to have no interest in getting implants and many are living perfectly happy lives without them . Due to the isolation the Deaf feel from a world that is inflexible to those who differ from the "norm", members of the Deaf community are more likely than a hearing person to use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate feelings of isolation and stay addicted because of the lack of facilities in which they can receive proper help.

Deaf children who are born to hearing parents who neglect to learn or teach their child sign language or PSE often feel isolated and are likely to experience mental illness and addiction in the future. 90% deaf children are born to hearing parents (Guthmann). As a result there is a lack of ability to communicate from child to parent unless a common language is learned. Parents have the option to teach themselves sign language and then, teach the child.

Unfortunately parents often refuse to teach themselves as well as the child. This leaves the child with the lack of ability to learn a language be that verbal or physical and can force illiteracy upon the child. In a study done in 1998 a deaf child received no formal education and had no access to learn ASL. Once 15 years old he was given hearing aids and was taught Spanish. He was only able to use it verbally and even then" he demonstrated severe deficits in verbal comprehension and expression"(Williamson) . Society can often become lazy and excluding feeling no need to truly communicate with the Deaf (Oralism) and this can often make members of the Deaf community feel isolated and alone. The feeling of isolation often leads to depression and other mental illnesses that can additionally lead to heavy drug abuse.

Stress causes members of the Deaf community to self medicate through drugs or alcohol in hopes of alleviating feelings of isolation . Over 600,000 people experience both being deaf and alcoholism (Guthmann). The physiological connection with isolation by speech, drug abuse and alcoholism is connected by depression. "Social disconnectedness like a small social network, infrequent social interaction, and lack of participation in social activities and groups." (Cornwell) the social disconnect someone can feel when it's as if the world doesn't speak the same language as you. Additionally feelings of isolation due to a mainly unintentional exclusion from some social activities and interactions it can lead to "a robust association between loneliness and worse health, and depression." (Cornwell)

Deaf people who are given a sentence and or placed into rehabilitation due to drug abuse or alcoholism, often cannot receive proper assistance during both the trial and the preceding treatment facility or whilst in incineration. A Deaf woman in court experienced a deep injustice during her trial. They forced her to keep the cuffs on her person so she was unable to communicate, she was not given access to a translator for 24 hour period of time, and she was left to sit in jail overnight simply because there was no one to translate (Callis). The injustice she experienced is not uncommon; often police cannot find access to a translator thought according to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) it is demanded they find one. After a trial you can be placed into rehabilitation or incarceration. Re programs often do not accommodate properly to those who are deaf. Some have a budget issue not allowing for assistance by translator " provide a few hours of interpreting services per day" (Koster). Being an inconvenience not having an interpreter on hand already, it can become dangerous. Deaf people who used drugs and or alcohol to escape from feelings of exclusions, the lack of a translator can make the feeling much worse. Treatment facilities can be a source of stress for someone recovering as there is no guarantee they will have access to a translator or any ability to communicate. They may not be able to receive the same experience of treatment as the rest of those in the facility as they will lack access to communication through all hours of the day (Koster).

The members of the Deaf community are more likely in day to day life to experience feelings of isolation of stress. This causes those experiencing hearing loss to often self-medicate and become addicted to drugs and alcohol. It is essential that deaf children learn ASL, and a necessity for the child to acclimate to a hearing and literary world. Neglectful parents can leave a deaf child feeling completely isolated leading to mental illness. Those who suffer from mental illness are more likely to use drugs and hearing parents of deaf children are less likely to notice as deaf children are likely to be more secluded. Those who do end up in rehabilitation often face issues with cost and availability. It is notably common for the Deaf community to fall into a drug abuse and alcoholism and can be a vicious cycle if the recipient of treatment at a facility experiences the same feeling of exclusion that lead them to drug abuse. Hearing people who work in the court systems and rehabilitation facilities can assisting the Deaf by learning sign language and making the language barrier disappear. Deaf people deserve just as many opportunities and easy access to help and rehabilitation as those who are hearing.

Word Cited:

 Callis, Lydia L. "How the Criminal Justice System Fails the Deaf Community." The Huffington Post ., 10 Nov. 2014. Web. 26 Apr. 2017. <>

Cornwell, Erin York, and LINDA J. WAITE. "Social Disconnectedness, Perceived Isolation, and Health among Older Adults." Journal of Health and Social Behavior . U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2009. Web. 10 Apr. 2017. <>

Guthmann, Debra, Ed.D, and Vicki Graham, B.S. "Substance Abuse: A Hidden Problem Within the D/deaf and Hard of Hearing Communities". Minnesota Chemical Dependency Program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals, 1994. Web. 04 Apr. 2017. <>

Koster, Tracy Bell, MSW & MS, and Debra Guthmann, Ed.D. "Substance Abuse and the Deaf/HH Community." Substance Abuse and the Deaf/HH Community . Minnesota Chemical Dependency Program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals, 1994. Web. 04 Apr. 2017. <>

Williamson, Graham. "Is There a Critical Period?" SLT Info . SLTinfo, 16 Jan. 2004. Web. 04 May 2017. <>



Also see:
Drug Awareness and Treatment Services for the Deaf in a Hearing World
Drug Abuse and Deaf People

Substance Abuse | 2 | 3


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