Why Asking for Help is the Most Important Hurdle to Overcome
Millions of Americans, some as young as age 12, struggle with at least one addiction. The most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicated nearly 165 million people over the age of 12 used substances in the past month. The report further noted that one out of every five (or 20%) people over age 12 used an illicit drug in the past year. This number is significantly higher than data collected in 2015 and 2016 and, unfortunately, confirms that the “war on drugs” is far from over. Another pertinent statistic from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that over twenty-one million people (again ages 12 and older) met the diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder related to their use of drugs or alcohol and needed substance abuse treatment at an addiction treatment center like Meadowglade. This number translates to approximately 1 in 13 adults, 1 in 7 young adults (age 18-25), and 1 in 26 adolescents (age 12-17). While these statistics are concerning, perhaps the more concerning statistics is that of individuals who received essential and potentially lifesaving treatment. In 2018, approximately 1.4% of people ages 12 and over (3.7 million of the previously mentioned 21 million-plus) received any substance abuse treatment in the past year. The biggest question many ask is why? Why do so many struggling addicts fail to receive addiction treatment that could lead to so many positive changes?
Asking for help can be challenging and scary. Denial, stigma, shame, social implication, and concerns over the impacts seeking treatment may have on their lives all contribute to the challenges around asking for help. Even though we recently ushered in a new year, and the viewpoints on addiction and addiction treatment continue to change, the fears and concerns around the stigma of addiction remain alive and well across the nation. Stigma describes the powerful adverse thoughts and perceptions that are imparted on someone when they reveal they are struggling with addiction. Stigma has significant and overwhelming power. It has the power to adversely affect the addict’s self-esteem and damage relationships with friends, loved ones, family, co-workers, employers, and other members of a struggling addict’s social circle. Stigma also has a detrimental impact on one’s ability to acknowledge a negative relationship with substances, an essential first step to seeking addiction treatment.
Why Asking for Help is Hard
Unfortunately, there is no precise answer to this question, and therefore, the solution to helping those in need of treatment get the help they need remains a bit elusive. However, if we take a moment to address some of the reasons why addicts may struggle with asking for help, it may be possible to remove some of the barriers to treatment that addicts of all ages face.
Denial is a common Symptom for Most Addicts
Regardless of their substance of choice, many individuals who struggle with a substance use disorder or addiction also struggle with denial. Some struggle to admit that they have a problem of any kind, whereas others struggle to acknowledge that the problem is significant enough to need addiction treatment. Either way, the inability to recognize an adverse relationship with drugs or alcohol inhibits their ability to decide addiction treatment is necessary, important, and potentially lifesaving. To help a friend or loved one make the essential steps towards seeking addiction treatment at a treatment center like Meadowglade, it is necessary to break through the barrier of denial. Although it may seem strange from the outside looking in, when somebody is deep in denial and has been for some time despite what others may know to be true about their situation, it often becomes easier not to change or not to ask for help than to admit that you were wrong and that you indeed struggle with addiction.
Some Addicts Do Not Realize They Have A Problem
While denial may be a driving factor behind the inability for some to seek treatment, lack of understanding could be the root cause for others. People who struggle with addictions, especially addictions that are chronic in nature, often find it hard to admit or realize that they have a problem. If your friend or loved one isn’t aware of the harm their addiction causes, it is reasonable to assume they would not know how to ask for help. Again, as an outsider, you may see that their addiction has taken control of their lives and find it hard to understand how they could possibly not see the same for themselves. It is also normal for friends and loved ones of someone struggling with addiction to struggle to comprehend why that person reacts so violently and aggressively when, out of compassion and concern, someone suggests that they seek treatment. Many individuals with addiction feel they are still in control. This is what their brain tells them. They believe that they only use it because they want to, and therefore in their mind, there is no reason to seek addiction treatment. For an addict to reach the point where they understand that they need help, they must acknowledge that they have lost control over their addiction. For someone who doesn’t realize they have a problem in the first place, this can be very challenging.
Stigma and Social Concerns
Stigma is defined as a set of negative beliefs that a group or society as a whole holds about a topic or a group of people. The stigma of addiction stems from the behavioral symptoms addicts experience and other factors related to substance use disorders. When someone experiences stigma, they are seen as “less than” those around them because of a real or perceived struggle or social status. Stigma is rarely based on fact. Instead, it is often based on assumptions, preconceived notions, and generalizations handed down from generation to generation. Society as a whole often carries negative feelings about drug use or addictive behaviors. Addiction is often characterized by derogatory terms such as “junkie,” “alcoholic,” “crackhead,” or “pothead.” These labels, thoughts, and feelings perpetuate the stigma many who struggle with addiction feel when they consider seeking treatment.
Individuals who have been the victim of stigma regarding their drug or alcohol use are significantly less likely to seek treatment than those who receive support and guidance on their journey to sobriety. Eventually, fear and concern about seeking treatment results in a host of physical and psychological problems, not only for the addict but for their family. Stigma is, unfortunately, more than just a societal concern. Some studies have shown that health care providers sometimes feel uncomfortable when working with people dependent on drugs or alcohol due to the symptoms or behaviors they display. This is extremely unfortunate as having access to trusted, qualified medical personnel is directly associated with maintaining the physical and emotional quality of life for someone in recovery. When health care providers or members of the medical community hold stigma towards people in any way, it can affect their willingness to assess or treat the patient.
Personal Fears and Concerns
The first step many addicts need to make when they’re ready to seek addiction treatment is to reveal their addiction to those closest to them. This often means “coming clean” with family and loved ones to whom they’ve denied their addiction for weeks, months, or even years. It is not unreasonable for an addict to fear how their family and loved ones may react. Also, many addicts fear what will happen to their jobs, financial stability, family stability, and their physical health when they begin addiction treatment. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for addiction treatment to require someone to spend time away from their day-to-day responsibilities.
This could mean spending weeks or months away from work, children, and their lives as they know them to be. For many, this is a hard concept to wrap their heads around. There are fears and questions associated with seeking addiction treatment that makes asking for help the most challenging step addicts need to face. What will happen to their job? Will they still be employed when they complete treatment? How will their co-workers or employer feel knowing that they struggle with addiction? Will their family be OK? What will addiction treatment be like? Can they make it through detox and withdrawal? What will their friends think? These questions and more lend themselves to the fear that often makes many addicts avoid seeking treatment.
Overcoming the fear and shame of asking for help is difficult but crucial. It is not important to have everything figured out before you begin your journey to sobriety. It is, however, important to know that it is OK to ask for help. Pretending you are not struggling or trying to ignore the situation will inevitably make things worse, not better. Addiction is a disease. It will not go away on its own without support and treatment. It takes courage and resilience to face the fears that come with asking for help. There are many ways to seek help, even if you are not comfortable disclosing your struggles to those closest to you. Search for supports online, write a letter, make a phone call, contact your primary care provider or talk to a friend or trusted person who has shared a similar experience. It doesn’t matter how you ask for help; what is important is to know that there is no wrong way to ask for help.
Addressing your addiction and seeking sobriety will not be easy. If you are ready to begin your journey, reach out to the team at Meadowglade today. Once you take the first step and reach out to our caring and compassionate team, you will see that many of your fears can be put to rest in a supportive treatment environment. Let our treatment team help you overcome your fears and begin a journey to a life free of addiction.