ASL Lessons | Bookstore | Library | ASL University Main ►

Deaf Community: "Barriers to Substance Abuse Treatment"

By Nathan Talbot



Barriers To Treatment For Substance Abuse Among The Deaf Community


            For people in the Deaf Community, it can be difficult to receive their needed treatment due to difficulty in communicating their issues of substance abuse to doctors. This paper will discuss the largest barrier that the Deaf Community deals with regards to substance abuse. This problem that is a major barrier for treatment is communication.

            Limited communication is a major issue regarding substance abuse throughout the Deaf Community. This lack of communication can make it difficult for people of the Deaf Community to fully communicate their issues with substance abuse. The article, Substance Abuse: A Hidden…Communities, states, "Good communication is essential in the educational, therapeutic and peer interaction dimensions of a well-designed treatment program" (Guthmann and Graham). In order for a person of the Deaf Community to receive the proper treatment, those administering the treatment need to fully understand what the patient needs. This is difficult when there may be no helpful way of communicating with a patient. Guthmann expands on interactions with a treatment program and its validity. Guthmann discusses the validity of an assessment of a substance abuser may be compromised (Guthmann & Sandberg, 1995). Treatment programs with a translator would be more successful in administering the correct treatment. More people of the deaf community will be able to receive better treatment due to better communication. Substance abuse awareness needs to be communicated to the deaf community just as much as it currently is being dealt with in the hearing community. Not only do treatment programs have a difficult time communicating with the deaf community but so do the parents of the deaf community.

            Another issue with substance abuse in the deaf community could stem from a deaf person's communication with their parents. Guthmann discusses parents and their fear of losing their "child to the deaf community" and that over time, the communication gap between parents and their child widens and communication becomes less and less. With the communication gap continuing to widen, the children are at more risk to fall into substance abuse, in which parents may attribute symptoms to just being deaf (Guthmann, 2000). Parents should work to find ways to communicate with their deaf children, preferably ASL. By learning how to communicate with their deaf child, parents would be able to make the risks of substance abuse known to their children. Parents' actions can be a barrier to treatment, but the views of the deaf community can be a barrier as well. There is another factor when it comes to communicating their substance abuse that acts as a barrier to treatment. This barrier is the thought that if the deaf person communicates that they have a substance abuse problem, that they will be seen as weak by the Deaf Community. The article states, "This perception of ‘moral weakness' can lead to a reluctance among deaf alcoholics and addicts to come forward and seek treatment" (Schertz, 2001). If there was not a negative idea against substance abusers in the Deaf Community, more deaf substance abusers would feel more comfortable communicating their troubles in order to receive the treatment they need. Instead of turning away people who are substance abusers, the Deaf community should look to help these people find the treatment they need to live a healthier life.

            Communication can be a major barrier when it comes to getting the people in the Deaf community the treatment they need when abusing substances. Communication can be improved but the treatment programs need to help deaf community in communicating risks and improving communication in order to get people the treatment they need.


Guthmann, Debra S. (2000). Is There a Substance Abuse Problem Among Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals? Division of Pupil Personnel Services at the California School for the Deaf. Retrieved: 24 January 2017. <>


Graham, V., & Guthmann, D. (n.d.). Substance Abuse: A Hidden Problem Within the D/deaf and Hard of Hearing Communities. Retrieved: January 26, 2017. <>


Guthmann, G. & Sandberg, K. Providing Substance Abuse Treatment to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Clients. Minnesota Chemical Dependency Program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals. Retrieved: 24 January 2017. <>


Guthmann, D., Sandberg, K. (1995). Clinical Approaches in Substance Abuse Treatment  for use with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Adolescents. Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse. 4(3). 69-79.


Schertz, Jackie (2001). Substance abuse and deaf people. Deaf Rochester News. Retrieved: 24 January 2017. <>



Notes:  Also see: Substance Abuse within the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community


*  Want to help support ASL University?  It's easy
DONATE  (Thanks!)

Another way to help is to buy something from Dr. Bill's "Bookstore."

Want even more ASL resources?  Visit the "ASL Training Center!"  (Subscription Extension of ASLU)  

*  Also check out Dr. Bill's channel:

You can learn American Sign Language (ASL) online at American Sign Language University ™ 
ASL resources by  ©  Dr. William Vicars