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Overcoming Barriers to Drug and Alcohol Treatment

Marcel Gemme By Marcel Gemme | Last Updated: 19 September 2023
  • What You'll Learn

When an individual who is using drugs or alcohol is confronted about going into treatment, it can be overwhelming. While the person may know they need help, addiction’s physical and mental side effects can create uncertainty and fear. This can lead to people making excuses for why they cannot get help. While some of these reasons may seem valid, it is important not to be manipulated by someone who is unable to confront getting help.

To help with this, we created a list of common barriers you may face when trying to get help for yourself or your loved one and how to handle them. You’ll find that many excuses have a short-sited viewpoint and revolve around responsibilities a person needs to handle. It is important to realize, when someone is addicted, these concerns always come second to drugs and alcohol.

Taking a longer-term look at any reason for not getting help puts things in perspective. Over time addiction will cause a person to be an ineffective parent, employee, student, etc., so getting help right away is always the best choice.

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Common Barriers of Treatment and How to Handle Them

“I have a job”

  • This is one of the most common objections that people give as a reason why they can’t start treatment. But it’s usually an excuse. Most employers are quite willing to work with staff who need treatment. In most cases, it’s illegal not to grant someone a medical leave to attend treatment. It may require a process known as FMLA and is much more common than some may suspect. If it’s an under-the-table job where that isn’t an option, try explaining to them how they can probably get their job back after treatment or another one like it. Most employers just want reliable staff. If the person is on drugs, it’s probably obvious to the employer, and they just haven’t known how to handle it. Often, they are pleased to hear that their employee is getting help and are glad to have them back once they’re off drugs. 

“I can’t leave my kids”

  • Getting someone who has children to go to rehab can be very difficult. Often, they don’t want to be away from their child for that long and are afraid the child “won’t remember” them. They may try to explain that their child needs them or that no one else will care for their child adequately while they are away. The reality is that they haven’t been truly present or a good parent to the child if they’re addicted to drugs. Sometimes, they just need to be told this. It may hurt, but it’s true. When they’re on drugs, they aren’t “there.” That’s not them. And they should be able to see that and agree. So, rehabilitation is the only way they will eventually be there for their child. And rehab is temporary. They may need someone to explain that a month or so is a very small amount of time compared to a lifetime, or even however long they’ve been using drugs. And rehab facilities allow family visits. 

“I need to stay in school”

  • How well is school really going? Most people on drugs cannot see what’s really happening around them. They’re likely doing poorly in school or will be soon as their addiction progresses. Even if they somehow maintain a good GPA, they likely aren’t retaining or learning anything. They’re just passing tests. Schools are familiar with medical leaves, much like work, and substance use treatment definitely falls within this category. The student may need to coordinate with the school’s counseling center or other administrators but will be given an option for the best way to complete rehab while minimally impacting their education. Again, this is more common than most people think.

“I can get clean on my own”

  • The easiest way to respond to this statement is to ask the person why they haven’t yet. If it were true, and they could stop independently, they shouldn’t still be struggling with addiction. This may be a quick way to discover that the person doesn’t want to stop using drugs. However, they likely won’t admit this. Instead, they usually toss out objections such as this one. But with some communication, even this barrier is navigable. They may answer the above question by telling you that they just haven’t ever been ready before, but they are now. This is a good thing and should be thoroughly acknowledged. Now, it’s just a matter of getting them to see that treatment is the best way to accomplish their goal. But likely, it’s just a way to try and convince you that they will stop using drugs if you just leave them alone. They won’t, so don’t buy it. Continue to push until they give the next objection, which will likely be one of the above. 

Removing Barriers Helps Make Treatment Possible

Once enough barriers are removed, they run out of excuses and reasons why they can’t start treatment now. This is where the rubber meets the road: They will agree or refuse. If they refuse, you can be certain that they will continue using drugs. Now, it’s time to begin exploring intervention.

Accepting You or Your Loved Have a Problem

There are also some barriers that family and loved ones can face when confronting someone close to them who is struggling with addiction. Many people do not want to believe that it’s happening, which can lead to ignoring warning signs. Giving an addict the benefit of the doubt can have deadly consequences.

Review the list below to find common mistakes people make when dealing with an individual in active addiction and why it is risky.

“They haven’t hit rock bottom”

  • This is a common belief that’s based on a myth. There’s a misconception that people must be at their absolute worst, or “rock bottom,” to be willing to change. And sadly, this myth has led to many people dying who otherwise could have been helped. The problem with this mantra is that an addict’s rock bottom is often death. So, we cannot wait for rock bottom. A person must indeed have some reasons to stop using drugs. But these can often be positive things like goals or motivations. And those are what ultimately motivate the person to change their lives. If they have nothing to live for, they will continue using drugs. So don’t wait until it’s too late to intervene and help someone who may not be able to help themselves.

“They promised me they will change”

  • Again, this is usually a way to keep people of their back so they can continue using. If they were going to change, they would have already. Dishonesty is a trademark of addiction. It’s not them; it’s the drugs. Don’t listen.

“It is just a phase”

  • This is a form of denial that many parents or spouses have when a loved one is engaged in substance misuse. Sadly, addiction isn’t a phase. It doesn’t work like that. If a person is addicted to drugs, their life is in jeopardy daily. It’s irresponsible to expect someone under the influence of drugs to make good decisions or change. They often need a push in the right direction. 

“They have to want it”

  • There are several versions of this sentiment, such as “You can’t help someone who won’t help themselves” and “They aren’t ready.” But each is an admission of denial. There’s some truth to these cliché phrases, but they aren’t all-encompassing. For example, no one wants to be a drug addict. No matter what they say, deep down, they are struggling. They know drug use isn’t the answer, but they’re using them to mask pain. They need help. But their addiction is controlling them.

Intervention May Be Necessary

Intervention is the practice of helping someone decide that treatment is the right choice. Ideally, the patient will go willingly to treatment. But often, the drugs prevent them from thinking or behaving rationally. So extreme measures may be used to help save their life, with the goal in mind that as the drugs wear off, they begin to think more rationally and decide they want help. But most interventions consist of simply talking to the person and getting them through the above barriers to a point where they choose treatment for themselves.




More Information

Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with addiction for over 19 years. He first started as an intake counselor for a drug rehabilitation center in 2000. During his 5 years as an intake counselor, he helped many addicts get the treatment they needed. He also dealt with the families and friends of those people; he saw first-hand how much strain addiction puts on a family and how it can tear relationships apart. With drug and alcohol problems constantly on the rise in the United States and Canada, he decided to use the Internet as a way to educate and help many more people in both those countries. This was 15 years ago. Since then, Marcel has built two of the largest websites in the U.S. and Canada which reach and help millions of people each year. He is an author and a leader in the field of drug and alcohol addiction. His main focus is threefold: education, prevention and rehabilitation. To this day, he still strives to be at the forefront of technology in order to help more and more people. He is a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist graduate with Honours of Stratford Career Institute. Marcel has also received a certificate from Harvard for completing a course entitled The Opioid Crisis in America and a certificate from The University of Adelaide for completing a course entitled AddictionX: Managing Addiction: A Framework for Succesful Treatment.



More Information

Michael Leach is a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant, who has over 5 years of experience working in the field of addiction. He spent his career working under the board-certified Addictionologist Dr. Rohit Adi. His experience includes working with families during their loved one’s stay in treatment, helping those with substance abuse issues find treatment, and teaching life skills to patients in a recovery atmosphere. Though he has worked in many different areas of rehabilitation, the majority of his time was spent working one on one with patients who were actively withdrawing from drugs. Withdrawal and the fear of going through it is one biggest reason why an addict continues to use and can be the most difficult part of the rehabilitation process. His experience in the withdrawal atmosphere has taught him that regardless of what approach a person takes to get off drugs, there are always mental and emotional obstacles that need to be overcome. He believes having someone there to help a person through these obstacles can make all the difference during the withdrawal process.