We can’t overcome barriers if we don’t know what they are.
When you start realizing you need help with substance use issues, what’s the first step? Often, getting help seems confusing, overwhelming, and full of barriers.
“Participation in treatment has generally been associated with positive outcomes among substance abusers. To achieve these benefits, however, it is necessary for substance abusers to enter treatment in the first place—a significant problem in many settings.”
(Study: “Treatment barriers identified by substance abusers assessed at a centralized intake unit” by R., Rapp, et al.).
Here’s an important truth: Get assessed first. If you’ve used drugs or drank moderately to heavily for a long time, it’s crucial to see a clinician knowledgeable in substance use disorders for an assessment. This way you’re aware of your status, options, and the issues around stopping use/drinking.
Without assessment, you may think things “aren’t so bad” and you can “just quit right now.” This is dangerous for your health! For example, a person who drinks a lot or relies heavily on benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium), should not try to detox themselves! Not only is it uncomfortable, but you’re actually putting your life at risk.
Even so, research shows that only a small fraction of those who need treatment actually seek it out. Why is that?
We put together the major barriers below. The ones we hear about frequently, as well as the barriers given by people in recovery. Finally, we’ll conclude with ways to address these barriers.
The Biggest Barrier: Money
I spent a few days at various events and venues, asking people what they think is the #1 barrier to seeking help for substance use disorders at a treatment center.
Guess what nearly everyone answered. That’s right: “Money.”
This perception is understandable…but it’s also misguided. It’s not commonly known, but there are ways to enter treatment, even if your finances are in shambles.
Numerous counties provide treatment on a sliding scale or cost-free basis. Naturally only so many slots exist. It’s important to stay persistent in trying to get in; many will have waiting lists. But you can go to self-help meetings such as AA or NA for support while on the waiting list.
If that’s not a possibility, treatment centers such as Support Systems Homes offer various levels of care and will help you explore your options and benefits for which you may qualify. We (and many other centers) even help you apply for them.
Do you have health insurance? Treatment centers will also check your insurance benefits and eligibility if applicable. If not, some accept Medi-Cal (in California), so make sure you discuss these options when you call.
Treatment Barriers 2 and 3: Stigma, and Denial
The next most common barriers to treatment people emphasized fall under “stigma” – shame, fear of people finding out, and fear of losing their job. All of which are potent motivators against seeking treatment.
There are also those who simply don’t want to stop using or drinking. Not specifically ‘denial,’ but the person does deny themselves a better life.
How can we address these issues, so people can get the help they need?
On a society-wide level, we can continue educating and working to reduce the stigma of those with addictions. Work so that shame is no longer a barrier and people feel free to seek help for their struggles. We need to continue reframing how we view and talk about addiction so that we treat it as we do other diseases. While progress has been made and stigma reduced, it still exists.
Continuing to improve access to treatment by making sure people know how to connect with treatment programs, disseminating information about treatment options, advocating for more and better insurance coverage and supports for those who are indigent is key.
If the necessary information is out there (and it’s growing), it will help people overcome their fears and reach out to systems, community-based organizations, and programs that can help them.
We Can All Help Overcome the Barriers to Seeking Treatment
If someone doesn’t want to stop using, family members and other loved ones can consult an interventionist, medical professional, therapist, or treatment center for assistance. This way you keep a line of communication open to your loved one, while taking action to break down a barrier for them.
Numerous free community supports and resources exist, for family members and friends of those with substance use disorders: Alateen, Narateen, Alanon, and the Nar-Anon family groups. Private therapy and family therapy are options as well. Links to these groups are on our Resources page.
If your friend or loved one doesn’t want treatment due to these barriers, you’re welcome to call Support Systems Homes and discuss their situation with us. Our intake staff will provide you with guidance about their options and resources. Together we can help them heal.