Substance abusers with learning disabilities less likely to receive or remain in treatment


We have posted previously about substance abuse in people with learning disabilities. A study in the Netherlands found estimates of the occurrence of substance use varied greatly, but that alcohol was reported to be used most often, even though this was at lower rates than reported in the general population. We also identified a study in a learning disability forensic service which found nearly half of patients in their sample had co-morbid harmful use or dependence with alcohol and cannabis being commonest drugs being used.

The authors of this U.S. review  suggest that people with learning disabilities in the U.S. “suffer disproportionately from substance use problems, largely because of a lack of empirical evidence to inform prevention and treatment efforts for them.”

The literature search identified 37 peer-reviewed texts across multiple disciplines,

They found that prevalence of substance use appears low among people with learning disabilities, but that the risk of substance abuse is comparatively high among substance users. They also identified a number of gaps in the research, for example the lack of studies identifying risks and outcomes for individuals with borderline and mild learning disabilities and for those with co-occurring mental illness.

They conclude that substance abusers with learning disabilities are less likely to receive treatment or remain in treatment than those with disabilities and that more research is needed to come to a better understanding of the prevalence of substance use problems and to develop prevention strategies, and treatment approaches that can meet the needs of this group.

Substance abuse among individuals with intellectual disabilities, Carroll Chapman S & Wu L in Research in Developmental Disabilities, 33,4, 1147-1156

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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