Substance abuse among individuals with intellectual disabilities

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Individuals with disabilities are a growing population that confronts multiple disadvantages from social and environmental determinants of health. In particular, the 7-8 million people in the U.S. with an intellectual disability (ID) suffer disproportionately from substance use problems, largely because of a lack of empirical evidence to inform prevention and treatment efforts for them. Although available research could inform future research efforts, studies are scattered across disciplines with the last review synthesizing findings written more than five years ago. To consider more recent findings with earlier works, PubMed, PsychINFO, and Google Scholar were searched and produced 37 peer-reviewed texts across multiple disciplines, 15 from 2006 or later. While the prevalence of alcohol and illicit drug use in this population are low, the risk of having a substance-related problem among ID substance users is comparatively high. Gaps in the research and population subgroups that warrant special attention are identified, such as individuals with borderline and mild ID, individuals with co-occurring mental illness, and individuals who are incarcerated. Compared with substance abusers without ID, ID substance abusers are less likely to receive substance abuse treatment or remain in treatment. Research is needed to better gauge the magnitude of substance use problems, identify prevention strategies, and specify treatment components that meet the unique needs of individuals with ID.

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