Demographic Characteristics and Rates of Progress of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons Receiving Substance Abuse Treatment

By Moore, Dennis; McAweeney, Mary | American Annals of the Deaf, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Demographic Characteristics and Rates of Progress of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons Receiving Substance Abuse Treatment


Moore, Dennis, McAweeney, Mary, American Annals of the Deaf


A LACK OF DEMOGRAPHIC INFORMATION and data related to the achievement of short-term goals during substance abuse treatment among persons who are deaf or hard of hearing dictated the need for the study. New York State maintains a database on all individuals who participate in treatment. Within this database, 1.8% of persons in treatment for substance use disorder (SUD) were also deaf or hard of hearing. As hypothesized, members of the deaf and hard of hearing sample were older, likelier to be white, and likelier to be female, relative to the SUD-only group. For both groups, alcohol, heroin, and cocaine had the highest rates of reported use. Achievement of short-term goals in the areas of alcohol use, drug use, vocational/educational goals, and overall goals indicated no differences between the deaf and hard of hearing group and the SUD-only group. Implications of these findings are discussed.

It has been more than two decades since researchers first noted the risk of alcoholism among persons who are deaf or hard of hearing (Boros, 1981). It has been speculated that the rate of substance use disorder (SUD) among this population is higher than among the general population (De Miranda, 1998; Peinkoffer, 1994), but the difficulties inherent in measuring alcohol and drug use within the deaf and hard of hearing population have made data collection problematic (Moore & Li, 1998). Barriers such as those associated with communication and intercultural attitudes keep persons who are deaf or hard of hearing hidden within the deaf and hearing impaired community (Lipton & Goldstcin, 1997). As Lipton and Goldstein have noted, 1As a result of the barriers imposed by communication, and the intercultural attitudes that keep the deaf substance abuser hidden within the deaf and hearing impaired communities, it is difficult to estimate the real number of deaf substance abusers or, obviously, their number in need of treatment services" (p. 735). Despite challenges related to communication modalities, statistical sampling, and the Deaf community's forceful stigmatisation of drug and alcohol abuse, a community-based survey of deaf and hard of hearing individuals was undertaken that utilized an interactive American Sign language-based kiosk; it found that the patterns of alcohol and drug use within this community were similar to those reported for the general population (Lipton & Goldstein, 1997). Lipton and Goldstein postulated that the rate of substance use in the deaf and hard of hearing community may be roughly equivalent to or less than that among the general population. However, providers of SUD treatment services specifically for the Deaf report that those persons most at risk for problem use are those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, with limited American Sign language or written communication skills (Guthmann & Blozis, 2001). Consequently, accurate information about the substance use patterns and rates of SUD within theentire Deaf community may not, as yet, be fully determined.

To clarify our terminology: When we discuss SUD, we are including all psychoactive substances, including alcohol, illicit drugs, and prescription medications. We include both abuse and dependence diagnoses when discussing SUD. To date, there still are little definitive data on the SUD rate among the deaf and hearing impaired population. Regardless of the rate, once a person who is deaf or hard of hearing is identified as needing treatment for a SUD, a set of problems arise. Treatment is mainly designed by hearing people for hearing people. Therefore, one would expect the therapeutic environment needed for change (i.e., trust, rapport, and insight into one's personal issues) would be less than adequate for persons with hearing impairment (Lipton & Goldstein, 1997). It follows that a less-than-ideal therapeutic environment would produce less-than-desired short-term goals during treatment. Accordingly, the lack of demographic information and data related to the achievement of short-term goals during treatment among persons who are deaf or hard of hearing dictated the need for the present study.

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