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,
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”
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
mncddeaf.org. Division of Pupil
Personnel Services at the
for the Deaf. Retrieved: 28 February 2008.
Guthmann, G. & Sandberg, K. Providing
Substance Abuse Treatment to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Clients.
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. mncddeaf.org. Retrieved: 28 February 2008.