The Barriers Surrounding Addiction Treatment in the US

October 30, 2013

Addiction is a serious problem in the United States. Thankfully, there are many addiction treatment centers and drug rehabs in the country that are designed to help people overcome their dependence on illicit substances. However, many people still struggle to find the addiction treatment they need, and it is important for community leaders to work together to make sure that anyone who is seeking help has the resources he or she needs.

Recently, Live Science published an article by substance-abuse and addiction expert Janina Kean, who led the first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting to be held in China’s Yunnan province. She explained some of the barriers surrounding addiction treatment in the U.S. and her recommendations for how to combat this problem.

A serious lack of funding

Kean stated that statistics from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration show that an estimated 40.3 million Americans are addicts. This is more than the number of people who have heart disease, cancer or diabetes, yet the U.S. is not spending nearly as much money treating addiction as it does on other health problems. For example, in 2010, the U.S. spent an estimated $86.6 billion on cancer treatment, $107 billion to treat heart disease and more than $43 billion on diabetes, yet only $28 billion on addiction treatment.

“With more than 20 percent of U.S. deaths attributed to tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, risky substance use and addiction are the largest preventable – and most costly – public health and medical problems in the nation. In the United States, 95.6 cents of every addiction-related dollar pays for the consequences of addiction – such as crime, hospitalization and car accidents. To have any real impact on reducing addiction in America, more money needs to be invested toward prevention and treatment, before abusive substance use has a chance to become a deadly consequence,” Kean wrote for Live Science.

She added that despite the fact that the American Medical Association named alcoholism an illness that should be treated medically back in 1956, and declared drug addiction an illness in 1989, courses on addiction in medical schools are limited. Furthermore, Americans do not seem to understand that addiction can be considered a disease. In 2005, a survey of 1,000 adults found that the majority believed addiction to be a symptom of moral weakness, with only 34 percent recognizing it as a disease or health problem.

More barriers to treatment

The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration explained that there are many hurdles some people have to overcome in order to access addiction treatment. For example, individuals who live in rural areas often do not have a treatment center in their town. SAMHSA reported that for people living in certain parts of Iowa, the nearest treatment center could be more than 100 miles away. Furthermore, even when there are drug and alcohol rehabs slightly closer, residents of rural areas may not have access to public transportation and therefore cannot get to them.

For people living in all parts of the U.S., one of the greatest barriers to treatment is the stigma surrounding addiction. This is why there needs to be an open discussion across the country about the disease of addiction, which may encourage more people to seek help.

“The U.S. needs to get serious about fighting addiction – unless the nation invests significant funds for treatment, improving addiction medicine education for physicians and reversing societal stigmas toward those suffering from substance use disorder, this disease, which is treatable, will unnecessarily continue to devastate millions of individuals and families in this country,” concluded Kean in her Live Science article.

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