Why Don’t People Seek Help for Addiction?

why dont people seek help for addiction

When it becomes apparent that someone’s drinking and/or drug use is out of control, they will find themselves at a crossroads that requires them to make some hard but life-changing decisions. Some people will acknowledge their troubles and realize what needs to be done and then do it. “It” could mean cutting back on their use or entering a professional addiction treatment center to get help for a substance use disorder. 

Others, however, will not get the help they need, seemingly deciding that struggling with substance abuse and addiction is preferable over addressing their problem. It’s not that simple, but it could make one wonder why don’t some people seek help for an addiction when it’s an apparent problem?

No matter how extreme or severe such substance abuse is, not everyone will agree to get help, at least not right away. Here are a few reasons why:

They don’t believe they have a substance use problem

Denial is a strong emotion among many substance users who won’t face the truth about their drug and alcohol issues. Sometimes, it takes a while for someone’s substance abuse challenges to catch up to them. Until then, they may think everything is under control, especially if they can drink and do drugs but still function well enough to hold a job, pay bills, and take care of other important business.

However, it’s not uncommon for people who deny they have a problem to see how strained their relationships are or their job performance slipping over time. They may have lost touch with reality, not realizing how much time they spend away from others getting high or how much money they spend on obtaining alcohol, drugs, and drug paraphernalia. Addiction is selfish, and often, once people reach a certain point, all they care about is where their next high or next drug is coming from. They do not care how their substance use and addiction are affecting their families, friends, or anyone around them. They may not even care how their substance misuse affects them either.

Addiction denial doesn’t always mean refusing to believe flat-out that one has a problem. Some people know their use is an issue, but they don’t always want to acknowledge when their substance use has crossed over into addiction. They want to believe they can “kick the habit on their own” and make themselves stop instead of seeking professional help. If this is your situation or that of someone you know, here are some signs that your substance use is a disorder:

  • Strong cravings for drugs, alcohol, or another addictive substance
  • Constantly thinking about using the substance
  • Using substances frequently or in large amounts
  • Increased substance use due to a higher drug or alcohol tolerance
  • Feeling unable to function without using drugs or alcohol
  • Using substances to avoid the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms
  • Spending a great deal of time using/abusing drugs and alcohol
  • Hiding alcohol or drug use from family, friends
  • Neglecting personal responsibilities to use substances

These are just a few of many signs that your substance use has become problematic and perhaps unmanageable. Substance abuse and addiction only lead to bigger problems when they’re left untreated. If you recognize the above-listed symptoms in yourself or a loved one, it’s time to consider getting treatment.

They Can’t Afford Addiction Treatment

One of the most widely identified reasons why people in active addiction don’t seek help for it is they believe they can’t afford it. More than 20 million people have a substance use disorder, but it has been reported that only about 10% get help for their condition. That’s a lot of people going without help. They usually don’t have the financial resources to pay for it and are not aware of how to get those resources to pay for it. They also may not have the time to take off from work or school to spend several weeks or months in treatment.

Professional substance abuse treatment comes with financial costs, so concerns about the price tag are valid. But taking care of a substance abuse problem that can cause bigger problems the longer it goes untreated is also a valid concern. Even though many people pass up the chance to get help because of the cost, the truth is that the cost of addiction is higher. It can cost you everything you have.

There are many ways to pay for addiction treatment. Recovery programs will look different depending on the person, so addiction treatment may not be as expensive as some think. An evaluation has to take place first to determine what treatment is in order. Once you know that, you may be able to gauge how much money you will need to pay for rehab services. If you have insurance, check with your provider to find out if your plan covers addiction treatment and how much is covered.

You can also ask your provider how your coverage satisfies the requirements outlined in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA requires insurers to cover 10 health services known as Essential Health Benefits. These include help with mental health issues, drug or alcohol abuse, and therapy and counseling.

There are nearly 15,000 substance abuse treatment providers in the U.S., so there are many options to choose from. Some offer care in a standard facility that likely costs less than care offered at a high-end, luxury facility. If you are considering addiction treatment, consider your needs and budget and what options you can use to pay for your treatment needs.

They Feel Judged, Shame, or Guilt About Their Addiction

Addiction stigma is one of the biggest reasons people don’t reach out for help. Instead, so many people will suffer and struggle with drug or alcohol dependence in silence, further putting their lives at risk. Many people fear rejection from family, friends, coworkers, and others, and they don’t want to be judged as an “addict,” “alcoholic,” or labeled negatively because they need help. These labels and negative stereotypes only set people up to be discriminated against and face unemployment and inadequate housing. Some people are even denied health insurance because of a substance abuse problem, while drug offenses land many in jail or prison. 

To move past these things, the general public, including those with substance use disorders, needs to change its view of addiction. It is a public health issue and a medical issue. Alcohol and drugs, including prescription ones, are a threat to the health and well-being of most people globally.  Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. among those under age 50, and the United States continues to grapple with several drug crises, including those involving opioids, benzodiazepines, stimulants such as crystal meth, and alcohol, among others. 

Addiction Is a Brain Disease

Changing our view of addiction requires us to see it as a medical condition. It is a chronic, crippling disease that rewires the brain to put substance use first. However, it is treatable with the proper methods unique to each person who has it. It has been likened to illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, and hypertension (high blood pressure) and has similar relapse rates, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Seeing addiction as the disease that it is and treating people with compassion and care could encourage more people to get help for their addictions.

“If you can educate the public that these are treatable conditions, we will see higher levels of support for policy changes that benefit people with mental illness and drug addiction,” said Beth McGinty, Ph.D., MS, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. McGinty led Johns Hopkins’ study about the public’s view of addiction.

They Believe Myths About Rehab

How the media depicts treatment at a drug rehab keeps many people away from exploring the idea. In many cases, drug rehabs are associated with prison and prison life. There’s also an undercurrent that drug rehabs exist to punish people who have substance use disorders, which only promotes addiction stigma. 

There is no shame in getting help for substance addiction. This life-saving move is not about punishing people for having a disorder. Rather, rehab is about healing and overcoming the effects of habitual, long-term substance abuse. It’s about helping individuals learn the skills and strategies they need to not only achieve sobriety but to sustain their sobriety for the rest of their lives.

If you or someone you know has decided to stay away from the idea of treatment, consider doing some research and reaching out to a substance treatment provider who can answer your questions and concerns about getting professional help. 

There are different types of programs and different kinds of facilities. Some are faith-based and incorporate religious principles in their treatment programs. Others serve a particular group of people, such as women or members of the LGBTQ+ community. No one program or facility meets everyone’s needs. There is treatment out there that fits you, but it will take doing some homework to find it.

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