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Substance Abuse and People who are Deaf:

Also see:  Deaf and Substance Abuse

Courtney Brown

Substance Abuse within the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community

Substance abuse is a prominent problem in American society, and each of us has our own idea of what an addict is, and how they act. However, most people probably have not contemplated the idea of substance abuse in deaf and hard of hearing individuals, and the obstacles they must overcome in order to receive treatment.

Most deaf children, about 90%, are born to hearing parents (Guthmann, 2000). This often makes for difficult communication problems. Deaf children, like all others, want to belong to a group or community, and many feel at home within the Deaf community. Sometimes this pushes them away from their hearing parents, and there can be a great deal of inner turmoil because they do not feel a strong connection to their parents. This issue can push some deaf individuals to abuse substances. Also, the issue of chemical dependency is rarely talked about within the Deaf community because of the lack of direct ASL signs that would best communicate the concepts of substance abuse (Guthmann, 2000).

Various reasons exist for not seeking treatment for drug abuse, but communication is a huge issue in deaf individuals. How would they be able to recover from their addictions if they cannot understand and communicate effectively with the doctors and counselors? Guthmann and Sandberg state, "A deaf individual who is placed in a treatment facility for hearing people is usually given sporadic opportunities for communication contingent on interpreter availability and funding." In some instances, an interpreter may only be available for specific activities, and not throughout the entire treatment process (Guthmann & Sandberg).

Since the issue of chemical dependency in deaf and hard of hearing individuals was recognized, there has been a lot of effort to develop programs help. One such program is the Minnesota Chemical Dependency Program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals (MCDPDHHI). This program models most other drug abuse treatment facilities with one major difference; the doctors and staff are fluent in ASL and are extremely knowledgeable in the workings of the Deaf community. Once the language barrier is removed, the individuals can then focus on their recovery (Guthmann, 2000).

The MCDPDHHI has developed a variety of tools that aid in the recovery of hard of hearing and deaf individuals. One such tool is the video "Dreams of Denial". It is a about a half hour long and is presented with sound, captions and in sign. This video was "designed to be an education/prevention tool for adolescents through adults... The video includes information about peer pressure, Twelve Step groups, treatment, family issues and barriers faced by deaf and hard of hearing persons in recovery" (Sandberg, 1996).

Other than language barriers, deaf and hard of hearing individuals' recovery is very similar to any one else with addictive behaviors. The message and steps to recovery is the same, it is just the various methods of getting that same message across. Everyone has their own obstacles to overcome in their lives, and substance abuse is a large obstacle for many individuals; hearing or deaf.


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: 28 February 2008. <>

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: 28 February 2008. <>

Sandberg, Katherine A. (April, 1996). Alcohol and Other Drug Use Among Post Secondary Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students. Retrieved: 28 February 2008. <>


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