July 13, 2024
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The Next Steps Toward Recovery

Substance-use disorders are prevalent and rising in the United States. According to the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, nearly 21.5 million people across the United States suffer from abuse or dependence to substances such as alcohol, drugs and prescription opioids. Indeed, we continuously hear substance-abuse stories reported in the media, and most likely know someone, be it a friend, neighbor, relative or family member, who struggles with addiction. Yet, the majority of people who truly need treatment for substance-use disorders do not seek it, despite the overwhelming evidence of treatment effectiveness. As a treatment provider, I have identified several barriers to seeking treatment that are consistent with theories and research offered by other professionals in the field. These barriers to treatment include cost of treatment, denial of a problem related to drug use in general, a lack of awareness to what treatment is, the information needed to obtain treatment, conflict of time, and perhaps most importantly, the stigma associated with treatment. These barriers discourage individuals from getting help, which is unfortunate, since achieving recovery is possible and probable, but the first step requires seeking out treatment. To address this important issue, it is incumbent on the community and substance-use professionals to eliminate the barriers to successful treatment.

While some individuals can quit using alcohol, drugs or other prescription dependencies with the help of family, friends or support groups, most people with substance-use disorders need professional help to get better. Similar to an athlete who breaks a bone and requires expert surgery and intensive physical therapy to completely recover, for most individuals suffering from substance abuse the addiction is either too severe, they are too far entrenched, or they may even be genetically predisposed in a way that makes it nearly impossible for them to quit on their own. Compounding the issue is that an individual requiring treatment will often fabricate any excuse to avoid seeking treatment and may even convince those around them that treatment is not necessary. This reluctance to seek treatment is often due to the stigma associated with treatment.

Stigma is all too real. In my experience working with individuals who suffer from issues with substance abuse, I have had countless clients divulge that they did not seek treatment earlier for fear of what others would think of them. In particular, there was a real concern to hide their addiction from a spouse or loved one to avoid the expected negative feelings they perceived would result once confessing to their disorder. These concerns are valid. Individuals tend to have negative feelings toward those with substance-use disorders, more so than they would toward other mental illnesses. This is despite the fact that substance-use disorders are a form of diagnosable mental illness. It is essential for the general population to be educated from an early age so that we can avoid this unnecessary and harmful stigma. Educating future generations on how to break down stigma in general, and in this context specifically, is of critical importance. Further, educating the public on understanding the importance of their support, whether as a family member, spouse, child, parent, friend or coworker, should be encouraged.

Let us reboot our thought process as it pertains to substance use. We can start by focusing on the barriers to treatment and finding ways to inspire treatment for substance-use disorders. We must understand that the way we speak about addiction and substance use in general should reflect the way we view and speak of other chronic health issues. That doing so can be a gateway to an overhaul that is desperately needed. An alteration such as this would be a game changer in not only reducing stigma, but would subsequently increase the prospects and likelihood for individuals and families struggling with addiction to seek and obtain the help they need. The time has come to stop treating the substance and start treating the person.

By Assaf Amos


Assaf Amos is a licensed LCSW and LCADC who holds an MSW along with specialized training and a certificate in addictions counseling. Assaf works with adolescents and adults, specializing in substance abuse and mental health treatment. He deals with a variety of issues, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, personality disorders, mood disorders, sexual abuse, trauma and PTSD, relationship issues, self-esteem, self-harming, and LGBTQ and sexual-development issues. Although he utilizes many different modalities of treatment, his primary theoretical modality is a cognitive behavioral approach.

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