deaf culture and alcoholism essay

Why is it so hard for the deaf to deal with admitting they are alcoholics or drug addicts which is an impediment for recovery? Why is it so hard for them to stay sober once they have achieved it for a few weeks or months? What do you think the main reasons are?

Having worked with the deaf for over 30 years I will try to answer these questions and research other aspects of the deaf culture, their mode of communication and alcoholism.

Although it may seem that communication is an aspect of every culture, two of the unique features are that there is not always a common language between parents and child, and there is no written form of the language. Thus, the deaf culture becomes unique, and through this uniqueness, they become isolated both from their peers and the hearing population.

According to Marie Egert Rendon in her article, Deaf and Alcohol and Substance Abuse “Substance abuse is a sensitive issue about which the deaf community does not yet feel comfortable talking. For many with in the community, it remains a moral issue; the denial of pathological drinking is very strong.” (Rendon, 1992)

Isolation is a well-known stressor and the denial of alcohol use in the family unit has long existed in the deaf community. The family structures and the cohesiveness of the family in their form of communications is a factor that must be considered. The deaf have had limited or strained access to their own cultural rights. They have been denied the right to their own language, their own community groups, and even have limited access to the majority culture because of communication barriers. Because of the sense of oppression, isolation has perpetuated the denial process. In addition, language, family, friendships, and services available to the deaf culture and native language have many innuendoes.

“Since the deaf culture is built around the language that the deaf people use- American Sign Language (ASL)- the culture is rarely accessible to the hearing world, due to the difficulty of mastering ASL.” (Rendon, 1992)

Family communication includes several dimensions, among them the mode, content and structure of communication. Mode of communication is frequently raised in discussions about communication within families having a deaf member. Communication mode use refers to the use of speech, sign, or some other method of face- to-face communication. (Kluwin, 1990)

Because of these barriers and other misunderstandings, alcohol and drug recovery treatment programs remain inaccessible. In addition to the recognition of communication difficulties, alcohol and drug service providers need to be acknowledgeable about deaf cultures, sensitive to the deaf issues, and aware of preferred methods of communication, including the use of interpreters, both in treatment programs and in recovery groups. (Luetke-Stahlman, 1994)

One of the biggest problems is that the deaf do not have sobriety long enough to be of help to other deaf people. Although that is beginning to change most are still dependent on the hearing to a degree. As the years go on the length of sobriety continues to grow.

The problem of alcohol and substance abuse in the deaf community is a reality. The culture of the deaf often provides a shelter and a barrier to recovery by encouraging isolation and denial. Little by little, information and education are bringing members of the deaf community into treatment programs and, thus, the cycle of repeated alcoholism can be broken. There are treatment programs that are specifically designed to serve the deaf, and there are programs that have some services for the deaf. However, this breaking down of the isolation and denial barriers requires continued efforts on behalf of a community already stretched to its limits. The deaf alcoholic or drug-addicted individual can achieve recovery only when advocacy promoting and achieving accessibility is the reality and not the rarity. When the deaf community openly admits that regardless of culture, race, or creed, alcoholism and drug abuse affects all cultures and that recovery is a right for everyone. It is not a stigma, and it is definitely not a moral issue. This is a lesson we need to be aware of and be of service to the deaf population.

There are many more AA groups in the greater Los Angeles area today than ever before. The deaf community is still somewhat untrusting of the hearing community even in the closeness of the Alcoholic Anonymous home groups. It has been my experience that the deaf meeting that have been held for the deaf only have not faired as well as the meeting with more sobriety and with a regular ASL interpreter. There are still not enough meetings as the hearing, but great improvements are being made.


Rendon, M., (1992) Deaf Culture and Alcohol and Substance Abuse. Journal of Substance Abuse. Vol. 9, pp. 103-110

Kluwin, T., (1990) Communication in Fostering Cohesion in Families with the Deaf. Journal of American Annals of the Deaf. Vol. 139, No. 3

Luetke-Stahlman, B. (1994) Social Interactions with Regard to Students who are Deaf. Journal of the American Annals of the Deaf. Vol. 140, No. 3

Duff, J., (1981) The Truth About Drugs. Los Angeles, California: Bridge Publications, Inc.

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