Why Many People Don’t Seek Treatment for Addiction

depressed woman looking down

In the United States, more than 23 million people live with addiction. The greatest number of these people are trapped in the abuse of alcohol. And while a smaller number cite drugs as their primary problem, the truth is that with polydrug use (the use of multiple drugs at a time or close together) the norm rather than the exception, the lines are definitely blurred.

The biggest group of people going to rehab are going because of alcohol problems. But look closer. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported on the substances that drove 1.8 million people to treatment in 2012. Of these people, 701,147 people needed help for alcohol. But 45% of these people were struggling with the use of alcohol plus another drug. The remainder listed illicit or prescription drugs as their primary problems.

But of course, the vast majority of people who needed treatment never got it. More than 20 million people damaged their lives, trashed their health, lost their jobs, alienated their families or lost custody of their children due to drugs or alcohol. What’s more, in 2012, about 88,000 people died from alcohol-related causes. Every year, more than 100 people a day die from drug overdoses and more die from injuries or illnesses related to their drug use. These people will never have the chance to go to rehab.


Given the grievous types of damage that result from the use of drugs and alcohol, why wouldn’t those who can’t control their intake ask for help? Why wouldn’t they stop at nothing to arrive at a rehab program that could help them?

The answer might shock you.

The most overwhelming reason was that these individuals did not see the need for it. Of these 20.2 million people, 96% actually met the criteria for addiction but they didn’t even realize it, despite all the wreckage.

In this chart, you can see that some of the remaining 4.5% made an effort to find rehab (and failed) and a slightly larger number didn’t even try.

The survey providing these numbers—the National Survey on Drug Use and Health—further asked those who didn’t seek treatment when they knew they needed just why it was that they didn’t. The biggest proportion of these people were not ready to stop drinking or using drugs. This might mean that they didn’t have confidence that rehab would work or they didn’t think they could bear life without the use of drugs or drink.

graph of people not seeking drug treatment

If families are appealing to a loved one to please stop using drugs, to please go to the rehab program that’s been located, these charts explain why these efforts are very often unsuccessful. The advice that many “experts” have in this situation is not helpful at all: “They need to hit rock bottom before they will go to rehab.” This so-called advice is completely untrue. What is true that some of these people will be dead before they hit bottom.

What is also true is that many addicted people need help to make that decision. That’s the job of an effective intake unit of a rehab or an interventionist. At Narconon centers, it’s not uncommon for intake staff to talk to the addicted person (who had previously refused rehab) and generate their agreement to start the program. When this fails, an interventionist should be used. This is a person who understands this kind of situation and the danger this addicted person faces each day. An interventionist knows how to help the addicted person see the urgency and kindle the hope he can recover and actually enjoy a sober life again.

If you have repeatedly tried to get a loved one to rehab and failed, call Narconon today. There is still hope that they can be gotten to rehab and can achieve a lasting sobriety.