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Common Barriers to Seeking Addiction Treatment

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Millions of Americans suffer from Substance Use Disorder (SUD). It is estimated that only about 10% receive proper treatment. There are several reasons, often in combination, why people avoid seeking the help they need. These barriers to treatment differ from person to person, but many share at least one of these common challenges.



“Most patients are not aware of what available mental health resources or services can help them navigate their recovery journey,” states Program Director lu-Luen Jeng, LCPC, ATR.  “Only after patients engage in treatments, do they suddenly realize that they have a great support network to lean on— from their medical provider, to their counselor to other peers. It is such an emotional relief to not be alone, ashamed, or afraid. I often tell our patients that recovery is not a phase. It is a lifestyle change that they embrace. That is why choosing the right treatment that is attentive and understands all emotional barriers will be a key to long-term recovery.”



Many people with SUD have difficulty admitting that they might need help. Some will declare, “I can stop using on my own.” Denial of their condition might indicate that they don’t realize that their behavior might be causing damage to their bodies, relationships, their jobs, or to other aspects of their lives.


Fear/ Stigma

Maybe there’s a little fear in every reason to avoid seeking help. A person might be afraid of being stigmatized by being found out at work, possibly losing their job, or in their neighborhood, or even in their family. It could be a fear that recovery is too difficult because of the commitment or the cost or that it might make it too hard to manage responsibilities. Fear can interfere with a person’s ability to think clearly and paralyze a person into inaction.



Many people think they can’t afford to get help. In the past, insurance companies didn’t cover treatment. But now, the Affordable Care Act requires insurance plans to cover mental health disorders such as SUD. Public health insurance, such as Medicaid and Medicare, also provide coverage. The system isn’t perfect and there can be out-of-pocket expenses. A person can, however, work with a treatment facility to find a way to make the payments easier. A low-income person might also be able to find financial aid. It is important to remember that the cost of street drugs, prescription opioids, excessive alcohol and the many other secondary health issues caused by these far outweigh the investment in getting well.



It can be intimidating to think about the time it takes to go through treatment for SUD. “I can’t take time away from my job.” “What if I get fired?” “What about childcare?” Outpatient treatment can be effective for many people because it allows a patient to continue to live, work, go to school while working on changing their environment as they need while in treatment. For inpatient facilities, many employers support employees in treatment for SUD and will allow them to return to their jobs. The important thing is to get help.


If you think you or a loved one may suffer from SUD, speak with your doctor or a recovery specialist.


Dale Willenbrink
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