Common Barriers to Seeking Addiction Treatment

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 addiction treatment help they need. These barriers to treatment differ from person to person, but many share at least one of these common challenges.

The Denial

Many people with SUD have difficulty admitting that they might need help. Some will insist, “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 other aspects of their lives.

The Lack of Knowledge Around Resources

Most patients are unaware of what available mental health resources or services can help them navigate their addiction treatment recovery journey. Only after patients engage in treatments do they suddenly realize that they have a great support network to lean on— from their medical providers to their counselors to other peers. It can be an emotional relief not to be alone, ashamed, or afraid.

The Cost

Many people think they can’t afford to get addiction treatment professional help. Health insurance is confusing, especially when it comes to addiction treatment.

But, the Affordable Care Act officially requires insurance plans to cover mental health disorders such as SUD. Public health insurance, such as Medicaid and Medicare, also provides coverage. The system isn’t perfect and there can be out-of-pocket expenses.

A person can, however, work with a addiction treatment facility to find a way to make the payments easier. Someone with low income might be able to find scholarships or sliding scale options. 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.

The Time Commitment

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 addiction treatment can be effective for many people because it allows a patient to continue to live, work or go to school while working on changing their life through treatment. Studies show this can be just as effective as inpatient treatment.

Though, for inpatient facilities, many employers support employees in treatment for SUD and will allow them to return to their jobs. In fact, it’s illegal to fire someone for seeking medical care in most cases. The important thing is to get help.

The Stigma

One of the biggest hurdles to seeking SUD treatment is often stigma. Society demeans, ostracizes and, in some cases, criminalizes those that struggle with SUD. This creates a perception that SUD is a moral failure, a hopeless fate that only befalls certain types of people. In reality, SUD is a chronic illness of the brain.

These common misconceptions in our society create a negative environment where:

  • Those who are suffering are afraid to seek help
  • Those in recovery are afraid to share their experiences when that sharing could help others
  • The facts about SUD are obscured

So, how do we take steps to eliminate the stigma and break down the barriers to treatment in an environment where users can feel more comfortable bringing themselves forward?

Raise awareness about what SUD really is

Substance misuse does not signify a lack of character, unreliability, or deceit. It is an illness that changes the chemistry of the brain and robs a person of free will. It can be treated with medication and therapy.

Change the narrative

Some of the common terms associated with OUD are misleading or outdated. These are terms like:

  • addict
  • junkie
  • clean and dirty
  • abuser
  • enabling
  • rock bottom
  • tough love
  • narcotic

Refraining from using these terms with negative connotations helps to eliminate the shame commonly and wrongly associated with OUD.

Celebrate recovery

Recovery is an achievement and worthy of praise and encouragement. Communicating to someone in recovery that you are proud of them, that you recognize their accomplishment, that you believe in them, that you have compassion for them goes a long way in maintaining an atmosphere of hope and pride. On the other side, don’t create an aura of shame about relapse.

There are other factors contributing to stigma, such as misconceptions about medications used to treat SUD and the unwillingness of the justice system to consider the medical judgment in treatment. For an in-depth study, visit the video of the conference on “Stigma and Access to Treatment,” held at Harvard University in October 2019.

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The Fear

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.

Complete recovery care includes dignity and treatment built to suit the individual’s needs. Often, contributing issues to OUD can stem from childhood traumas, depression, anxiety and a number of overlapping health concerns. The case for an outpatient rehab program to assess and treat all aspects of a person’s mental, emotional, behavioral and physical is overwhelming. Eliminating stigma increases as more information and discussion occur.

If you or someone you know is struggling with Opioid Use Disorder, please seek help today!

GoodTherapy | Recovery

Rehab centers provide drug and alcohol rehab. Use our Rehab Treatment Center Directory to start looking at the options today. Be sure to reach out to therapists who specialize in addiction who can help you or your loved one.


Cummings, N. A. (1991). Inpatient versus outpatient treatment of substance abuse: Recent developments in the controversy. Contemporary Family Therapy, 13(5), 507–520.

Digital Communications Division (DCD. (14 C.E., February 11). Does the Affordable Care Act cover individuals with mental health problems? Retrieved October 15, 2022, from website:

‌Evidence-Based Addiction Treatment Options. (2022, May 16). Retrieved October 15, 2022, from Symetria Recovery website:

Stigma and Access to Treatment (2019, October 15). Retrieved October 15, 2022, from FXB Center for Health & Human Rights | Harvard University website:

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