Barriers to Addiction Treatment in the US: A Strategic Approach

Barriers to Addiction Treatment in the US: A Strategic Approach
Barriers to Addiction Treatment in the US: A Strategic Approach


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Substance abuse has reached epidemic proportions in the US, with millions of Americans grappling with addiction to alcohol and drugs. Isolation, apprehension, and stress worsened the situation amid the pandemic. Things haven’t improved much as the country struggles to deal with the addiction crisis.

In 2021, surveys reported that about 19.4% of Americans (280 million aged 12 and older) admitted to using illegal substances at least once. Breaking down the numbers, 31.9 million of them were drug users, consuming illegal substances and illicitly misused prescription drugs. Others had alcohol dependency and disorders.

The situation is bad in states like Arizona, the opioid capital of the country. According to data, the overdose death rate for all drugs in Maricopa County was 41.9 per 100,000 in 2022. In Phoenix alone, 991 people died due to drug overdose during the year. While the numbers are gross, they are also eye-opening.

The American government should pay more attention to the barriers to treatment to address the problem and reduce the death toll. Here are the ones that affect addiction treatment in the US:

Financial Barriers

While the country has millions of people classified as requiring addiction treatment, only a fraction of them opt for therapy. The number of people seeking help in California and Colorado dropped from the 2011 figures. In Arizona, however, there was a significant increase of 42.2% (from 2011) in the number of patients seeking treatment.

The reason is perhaps that Arizonians have the option of using Medicaid coverage at a treatment center in AZ. Arizona Medicaid provides coverage for several health services, including addiction rehab. Patients who cannot afford out-of-pocket treatment can look for a rehab center accepting Medicaid AHCCCS (Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System) plans.

According to Changes Healing Center, addiction treatment is expensive, leading to financial barriers for patients. But insurance coverage can make it affordable. State governments should take a cue and provide broad coverage with their healthcare plans.

Social Stigma

Social stigma is another barrier that fuels the addiction problem in the US. Besides impeding care delivery, it often misleads patients and providers into underestimating the burden of substance use. Patients often feel ashamed and discriminated against while opening up, leading to avoidance and disdain for treatment.

Besides social stigma, self-stigma is another challenge for individuals struggling with substance use disorders. They may end up internalizing the negative stereotypes, lowering self-esteem and reducing motivation to seek professional help.

Fortunately, innovative solutions such as telehealth can address the barrier by ensuring confidentiality. People can seek help from the comfort and privacy of their homes. They don’t need to worry about bumping into someone they know at the rehab clinic. Likewise, online support communities enable them to discuss their problems with peers and providers.

Geographical Limitations 

Americans in specific locations have better access to rehab facilities because programs are concentrated in densely populated states. According to 2020 statistics, California, New York, Florida, and Illinois had the maximum number of facilities.

Conversely, states with low populations, such as Vermont and Montana, have fewer facilities. Many of these states are geographically large, making treatment less accessible to people in rural areas. Arizona is a good example when it comes to an increase in accessibility. The state has 447 centers, an increase of 104.1% since 2011. 

If you are a Phoenix resident, finding reliable outpatient program options in Phoenix is likely an easy task. The same applies to other cities in Arizona, considering the state has far better statistics than other parts of the country. 

Prevention of Future Occurrences

Research establishes that people recovering from addiction frequently encounter relapses, regardless of the substance they are habitual to. While relapse is a barrier, it shouldn’t be considered a moral failing or the end of the road.

Clinics can prevent relapse by motivating patients during the initial treatment cycle. Implementing strict follow-up and monitoring can dissuade them from falling into the relapse trap again. A broader step is to reassess and review the drug approval process to prevent harmful medicines from reaching the market. Tight control over illicit drugs is also essential.

Closing Thoughts

The barriers to addiction recovery in the US are challenging, but they are not insurmountable. More than a commitment at the patient level, overcoming these barriers requires government involvement.

A strategic plan can help prevent the availability of illicit substances and increase the accessibility of treatment. Most importantly, insurance coverage is crucial to enable people to overcome the financial hindrances that may keep them from overlooking the need for help.

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