Addiction, Recovery, and the ADA: An underutilized part of the law - A Chat with Dr. Oce Harrison, Director of the New England ADA Center

September 16, 2020

by Katherine Blakeslee 

This year we are celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). Even now, people with addiction and those in recovery are still unaware of their civil rights under the ADA. The ADA is clear – people with addiction are people with disabilities and have civil rights under the law if they meet the ADA’s definition of disability (Americans with Disabilities Act as Amended, 2008). With that, there’s been a focus at the New England ADA Center on how the ADA addresses addiction and recovery.

I had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Oce Harrison, Director of the New England Center, on how the ADA protects those with alcohol use disorder (AUD) and substance use disorder (SUD). Oce was quick to point out the ADA applies to AUD and SUD very differently. For alcohol use disorder, it applies to anyone who has a past and/or current addiction. On the other hand, for substance use disorder, you must be in recovery for protection under the ADA. You can read more about this in Oce’s recent article published in the Spring 2020 edition of Advances in Addiction and Recovery Magazine on “How the ADA Addresses Addiction and Recovery.”

While it is important to know the distinction between AUD and SUD and how it applies to the ADA, Oce shared some statistics that sound the alarm on why this is a key issue facing our society today. "Of the US adult population, 9.1% or 22.35 million people are in recovery."

Oce says this demands a call to action for expanded outreach to people with disabilities such as those with AUD and SUD. For the past two years, Oce took on the task of traveling to addiction recovery meetings, such as Learn to Cope, in a grassroot effort to provide education on civil rights for families with loved ones with addiction. In addition, she led a national effort in writing fact sheets on how the ADA addresses addiction and recovery.

To learn more about rights for those with addiction or to those in recovery, the ADA Centers provide free information about how the ADA applies to their situation and have a toll-free number which is 800-949-4232. Oce concluded our chat with:

              “Knowing one’s rights can have a transformative effect
              on how we treat and care for one another in this country.
              Civil rights are a guiding force in combating discrimination
              often misidentified as stigma for people with AUD and SUD.”

If you have a success story to share about how the ADA has helped you in addiction and recovery, please email Oce Harrison at