Oxford House: Deaf-Affirmative Support for Substance Abuse Recovery

By Alvarez, Josefina; Adebanjo, Aderonke M. et al. | American Annals of the Deaf, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Oxford House: Deaf-Affirmative Support for Substance Abuse Recovery


Alvarez, Josefina, Adebanjo, Aderonke M., Davidson, Michelle K., Jason, Leonard A., Davis, Margaret I., American Annals of the Deaf


DEAF INDIVIDUALS seeking substance abuse recovery are less likely to have access to treatment and aftercare services because of a lack of culturally and linguistically specific programs and insufficient information about existing services. Previous research indicates that Oxford House, a network of resident-run recovery homes, serves a diverse group of individuals in recovery. However, research has not addressed the experiences of Deaf Oxford House residents. The present study found no significant differences between Deaf and hearing men living in Oxford House in terms of sense of community and abstinence self-efficacy. However, while most of the hearing participants were employed, none of the Deaf Oxford House members were. The study's findings indicate that Oxford House may be a promising Deaf-affirmative alternative for individuals seeking recovery from substance abuse. However, since Oxford Houses are self-supporting, Oxford Houses designed for the Deaf community may face unique economic challenges.

Abuse or misuse of alcohol and other drugs affects a significant number of Americans and is related to a variety of negative outcomes for affected individuals and the larger society (Gmel & Rehm, 2003; Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2004; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2003). Only a handful of studies have attempted to document the prevalence of problematic substance use among Deaf individuals. These studies have found that substance-related problems are as common in the Deaf community as they are among the hearing population (Lipton & Goldstein, 1997). In addition, access to treatment for Deaf individuals remains a critical issue (Guthmann & Blozis, 2001; Lipton & Goldstein, 1997;Vernon, 1995).

The most commonly encountered problem when services are provided to Deaf individuals who abuse substances is inadequate communication. That is, there are not enough substance abuse counselors who are proficient in American Sign Language (ASL) or signed English (Guthmann & Blozis, 2001; Leigh, Corbett, Gutman, & Morere, 1996). In addition, because of communication barriers, substance abuse education and prevention efforts have not yet reached many in the Deaf community. Therefore, there is a lack of awareness of the problem of substance abuse and available treatment programs among a large part of the Deaf population (Guthmann & Sandberg, 2003). When information about treatment services reaches the Deaf community, services may still be inaccessible because of stigmatization of substance abuse, mistrust of hearing service providers, and a lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate services (Guthmann & Blozis, 2001; Guthmann & Sandberg, 2003; Lipton & Goldstein, 1997). Those who do seek treatment frequently encounter a lack of specialized treatment programs that adequately address the specific needs of the Deaf community (Guthmann & Blozis, 2001; Leigh et al., 1996; Vernon, 1995). Additionally, there are few culturally and linguistically appropriate aftercare programs; many 12-step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous also lack the resources to provide sign language interpreters for Deaf members (Guthmann & Sandberg, 2003).

A vital step in the recovery process is to reduce contact with former substance-using friends and develop relationships with individuals who support abstinence (Brewer, Catalano, Haggerty, Gainey, & Fleming, 1998). This may be especially difficult for Deaf individuals, who likely have limited access to 12-step groups and other such support programs (Guthmann & Blozis, 2001). Thus, many Deaf individuals who complete substance abuse treatment may find it more difficult to develop social networks that support long-term abstinence.

Since the early 1990s, a research team at DePaul University, in Chicago, has conducted a series of studies involving Oxford House, a residential recovery program founded in the mid-1970s (Jason, Davis, Ferrari, & Bishop, 2001).

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