Is Addiction a Disability?


Substance abuse disorder, whether it is alcohol use disorder or opioid use disorder, is a complicated and dangerous diagnosis that can wreak havoc on an individual’s physical health, personal life, and professional life. Addiction can occur due to a multitude of factors, including genetics and environmental traits. The decision to take the first drink or experiment with painkillers may initially be a personal choice; addiction itself is not a choice. Addiction is viewed as a medical diagnosis as it has short terms and long-term effects on an individual’s brain and body. Substance use disorder is often referred to as a disability as it negatively affects an individual’s ability to function in society. 


Substance use disorders generally begin with occasional recreational use that can quickly turn into an everyday dependence. The individual is prone to severe physical and emotional withdrawals in the absence of the drug and most likely will not have a desire to quit. Substance use disorders often result in financial hardships due to the inability to work, as most places of employment have a zero-tolerance drug policy. Addiction can also break apart families resulting in isolation and loneliness. 


Is Substance use disorder a disability?

According to the American Disability Act (ADA), a substance use disorder, whether past or current, qualifies as a disability if the individual has a mental or physical impairment that limits one or more major life activities. Individuals who are struggling with addiction usually have difficulties caring for themselves, which is considered a significant life activity by the ADA. 


Unfortunately, our society views an individual with a physical handicap differently than an individual who is struggling with an opioid use disorder. Although both individuals have a disability, the stigma associated with substance use disorders has led to controversial views on who qualifies for disability benefits. 


What the government has to say

According to the U.S. government, individuals who are struggling with a substance use disorder can no longer receive disability benefits from the government, even if they have paid into their social security. In other words, the government does not view substance use disorders as a disability, which, unfortunately, has added to the current stigma surrounding addiction. 


Before 1996, individuals could be eligible for Social Security disability benefits if they were diagnosed with a substance use disorder. However, Congress eliminated this program, and as a result, individuals who are struggling with addiction can no longer receive this benefit. Without this benefit, it makes it difficult financially for those who are currently in treatment for their addiction, as most treatment programs require an intensive 30-60 day stay where individuals live in residential facilities while undergoing treatment. This means that individuals must step away from their jobs and families to make their recovery journey a first priority. 


What the medical community has to say

Therapists, physicians, and medical experts agree that addiction is a disability as it negatively impairs an individual’s ability to function. The medical community does not view addiction as a choice but rather as a disease such as any other medical condition, including diabetes and high blood pressure. As a result, treatment is focused on a whole-person approach, which usually encompasses medication, therapy, and holistic methods such as yoga and meditation. The goal of treatment is to not only “cure” the addiction but to uncover the underlying triggers that have lead to the addiction. Just like treating any other disability, medical professionals work to get to the root of the disorder. 


Food for thought

What if an individual who became paralyzed from a traumatic accident later became addicted to prescription pain medication? What if a young woman suffered an emotionally traumatic experience and has become dependent on sleep medication to fall asleep at night? Most addictions do not begin with individuals wanting to become addicted to opioids, sleep meds, anxiety pills, or alcohol. Substance use disorders occur for so many different reasons, and most of these reasons are unintentional. Many individuals who are physically disabled abuse prescription painkillers and alcohol not only to cope with their physical pain but also to erase their emotional and mental pain that comes with their disability. Disabilities come in all forms, and just because you may not be able to see the physical disability does not necessarily mean that an individual is battling an invisible disability. 

World Sleep Day: Dangers of Sleeping Pills

prevent sleeping pills addiction


World Sleep Day, March 19th, is an annual awareness day designed to educate the general public on the importance of good sleep hygiene and other relevant issues related to sleep, such as medicine, social aspects, driving while fatigued, sleeping pill addiction, and education. Adults are encouraged to have an average of 8-10 uninterrupted hours of sleep each night consistently; however, most adults average less than 7 hours of nightly sleep. We live in a society that grooms us to multitask to an extreme, and as a result, we often neglect healthy habits, including sleep. Many of us rely on coffee and other caffeinated drinks to keep us awake throughout the day and then use sleep-aids at night to help us fall asleep. Chemical sleep aides, also known as sleep medications or hypnotic-sedatives, work by slowing down brain activity to induce sleep, specifically by increasing the amount of non-REM sleep. Sleeping pills can be a quick fixed to help us with a good night’s rest; however, many Americans abuse sleep aids and get into the habit of using them consistently.


Types of sleep aides

  • Benzodiazepines and barbiturates: alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), and quazepam (Doral).
  • “Z-drugs”: Zolpidem (Ambien), zaleplon (Sonata), and eszopiclone (Lunesta).
  • Over the counter sleep aids: diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and acetaminophen/diphenhydramine (Tylenol PM)


Why are sleeping pills dangerous?

Over time, sleeping pills can re-wire the brain that disrupts the sleep/wake cycle. Chronic use of sleeping pills can result in needing higher doses to produce the same effects, and many individuals will experience physical withdrawals upon cessation of sleep aids. In other words, sleeping medications have high addiction potential.


Sleeping pills are also known to contribute to life-threatening accidents. Individuals who are under the influence of sleeping pills will cook, walk, operate a car, and shop online while they are asleep. They awake the next morning with no recollection of the previous night’s episodes. Driving under the influence of sleep medications is extremely dangerous and can even be considered reckless driving. Mixing sleep medications with alcohol can result in a higher addiction potential with worsening side effects as alcohol acts on the same receptors in the brain as some of the sleep medications mentioned above.


However, it is essential to note that not all sleep medications are harmful. Sleeping aids can help induce sleep and can be used for a short period (a few days) for individuals who are struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep. It is when individuals depend on sleep medications over the long-term that can result in addiction. Regardless of the time frame of use, sleep medications should never be used while operating a motorized vehicle or engaging in activities that could be deemed dangerous.


Good sleep hygiene

Good sleep hygiene is similar to adopting a healthy exercise and eating routine; it takes time, commitment, and good habits. The following are tips for a restful night’s sleep:

  • Create a calm sleep environment: A cool dark room with a comfortable bed without any florescent lighting is the most conducive to a restful night’s sleep.
  • Avoid screen time one hour before bed: Avoid cell phone or television use at least one hour before bed for your brain to relax. It is best not to have a television in the bedroom and to only use the bedroom for sleeping.
  • Stick to a strict sleep/wake schedule: It is essential to set a consistent bedtime and wake time every day, including weekends. This may take a couple of weeks to adapt, but over time, your brain and body will become used to falling asleep and waking up at the same time every day, which will allow you to have consistent non-REM and REM sleep cycles.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and food before bed: Avoid caffeine after 2 PM and avoid eating anything at least four hours before bed. Although alcohol is known to induce sleep, it is also known to result in nighttime awakenings, and therefore individuals do not benefit from an alcohol-induced slumber.
  • Avoid exercise before bed: Exercise during the day is a great way to help you adopt a healthy sleep cycle; however, it is best to avoid exercise two hours before bed. This way, your body has a chance to relax to prepare for sleep.
  • Adopt “sleepy-time” patterns: Sleep-inducing teas, warm baths, and lavender essential oils are all relaxing ways to induce sleep.


Seeking help 

If you find yourself reaching for the bottle of sleep medications or feeling as though you need a medicated induced sleep, you may be struggling with a sleep medication use disorder. Although adopting healthy sleep hygiene and a routine sleep pattern is essential, seeking help for your sleeping pill addiction is just as important. Quest2Recovery provides treatment for individuals who are addicted to benzodiazepines and other sleep aids. Now is a good time to call. Take care of yourself and get a good night’s rest.