written by Emily Buckley, editor in chief

There is an alarming discrepancy between the number of people who need addiction treatment in the United States and those who actually receive it. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2016, about 21 million people age 12 and older, or approximately 1 in 13 people, needed substance abuse treatment. Only an estimated 3.8 million people age 12 and older actually received care. That means that more than 80 percent of those who needed treatment did not get it.

These are not just people in big cities or people you see on the streets. They are not only people who come from “bad homes.” Often, these are everyday people battling a chronic drug or alcohol addiction. These are people that, in many cases, do not realize they need help.

“People often ask me if there is really a need for drug addiction treatment in our community,” Melanie Rust, social worker and program director at Clear Recovery of Cache Valley, said. “The answer is yes, there most definitely is. This is a somewhat hidden population that we are talking about. We have treated business owners, stay-at-home moms, grandparents; people who come from good families and who have good moral values; people who consistently attend church. You never know what someone is struggling with. Not everyone who struggles with addiction is going through the legal system, many have never been arrested and may have even kept their addiction hidden from family and friends.”

People suffering from drug addiction go untreated for many reasons, varying from lack of treatment availability to concern about costs, but according to research done by graduate students at Utah State University this year, the most common reason people in Cache Valley don’t seek treatment is because they have concerns about losing a job or being discriminated against at work, followed closely by fear of judgement by friends or family or their religious community, or they have concerns about costs.

Melanie says that substance abuse disorder can cause damage to relationships, health, finances, and employment, and have legal ramifications. “For some people, damaging relationships and finances may be enough to recognize a need for help,” she said. “Some others keep using until damage has been done in all five of those areas.”

Regardless of the fears that prevent someone with addiction from seeking treatment, or of the damage that has been done, help is available.

Addiction undoubtedly carries a stigma. It is such a heavy weight on the shoulders of those in and out of recovery that many people do not want to seek addiction treatment because they fear other’s judgement. “Those who fear stigmas related to addiction and being treated for it should know that all substance abuse treatment is protected by HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996),” Melanie said. “In fact, any treatment done for mental health and substance abuse disorder qualifies for a higher level of HIPAA protection. Treatment should be a safe place to talk about what you are going through and have gone through in the past. When clients don’t feel safe to be honest, healing cannot happen.”

Although there may be real obstacles on the road to recovery, it is important for those who suffer from addiction to understand that it is a treatable disorder. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that research on the science of addiction and the treatment of substance use disorders has provided research-based methods that help people stop using drugs and resume productive lives.

If you or someone you love suffers from addiction, seek help to break down the barriers and begin living an empowered life.