The National Institute of Health estimates that about one in five people have a learning disability severe enough to interfere significantly with academic accomplishments. Yet, other research estimates that only about one in four of these individuals with a learning disability receive proper treatment. Since we know that learning disabilities are usually genetic, parents may fail to seek help for the very condition that impacted them. Unfortunately, adolescents who are unaware of their learning disabilities are more likely to become involved in substance abuse, which only exacerbates their problems in school. There is a higher incidence of substance abuse in the learning disabled population than there is in the general population. No one is exactly sure of the nature of the relationship between the two, but there are logical hypotheses that are being researched.
Do drugs cause school failure or does school failure cause drug use? It would be an interesting debate, but the bottom line is the two are in some way very much connected. Yet, not everyone with learning disabilities is involved with drugs. There has to be a reason. For those who do fall victim to substance abuse, proper treatment is an important element of recovery. Durazzo et al, 2008;43(6):683-691, 2008
Oxford University Press, discovered that alcohol abusers with processing deficits were 14.2 times more likely to relapse with alcohol than alcoholics with normal processing. This presents a very compelling reason to test for such learning disabilities.
For any substance abuse program or treatment center to be truly effective the underlying issues of substance abuse must be clearly identified and re-mediated. Dual diagnosis should not only include substance abuse and psychological problems but, given the high incidence of substance abuse with learning disabilities, should also include learning problems. This, in essence, creates a triple diagnosis program. Sobriety always comes first since, as those in the addiction field often tout, “You can’t do therapy on a drug.” The cloud and fog need to go away before any serious work can be done.
As children and adolescents we spend almost half of each weekday in school and doing homework. When there are learning disabilities, including processing problems, school becomes a battleground of failure. Failure breeds low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and, often, normal peer rejection. Pain is a great motivator. Make no mistake about it. While creating other problems, drugs DO numb the pain. This is called self-medication. Then, the person has a built-in peer group with which to socialize … other drug users.
Again, while not every person with learning disabilities turns to drug use, there is enough evidence to suggest those with learning disabilities who go untreated are much more likely to become involved with substance abuse than those who are treated.
Children and adolescents with untreated learning disabilities and substance abuse issues grow up to be adults with learning disabilities and substance abuse issues. While the physiological effects of drugs on the developing body and brain are more severe, the life effects on an adult can often be much worse.
With proper standard psycho-educational assessments and such modern technologies as the DESA (Digital EEG Spectral Analysis), fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), and SPECT (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography) scans, the learning disabilities and processing problems can be clearly identified. Once identified, the individual’s treatment regimen must include the remediation of the problems if it is to have any chances of sustained success. Substance abuse and learning disabilities create psychological problems. It is a three-headed monster. When only two of the three are slain, it is still very much alive and capable of inflicting great harm. Certainly, identifying the problems early in childhood and adolescence is the ideal, but it is never too late. Adults with learning disabilities can benefit from proper diagnosis as well.
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