It’s overwhelming to think about what happens once you’re sober. Where you’ll live, where you’ll work, and what support is out there for you. There are many barriers to getting help managing an addiction like pressure from friends to use, the presence of drugs in the media, and using drugs to cope with uncomfortable feelings. These barriers can feel even harder to overcome when you are battling an addiction alone. And it may feel fake to say “recovery is possible.”
It is completely normal to feel lonely, especially when you are battling a condition that people around you may not fully understand. But sometimes, that fear of going through a journey alone can make us miss support systems that are right in front of us. Finding support, whether it’s family, friends or professionals, is possible and you don’t have to walk through sobriety alone.
Why you may need support outside of family and friends
I was forced into therapy – I thought I didn’t need this. But it turned out to be the best thing. It helps to have someone unbiased to help you.
It’s difficult to ask for help with sobriety when you aren’t sure who to turn to. This is especially true if you feel like you can’t trust your family or friends. There are many reasons some people feel like they can’t turn to loved ones for help. They may:
- Enable you to continue using, especially in social situations or if you’re struggling with symptoms of withdrawal.
- Make you feel isolated if they can’t understand your struggles
- Become overwhelmed by the process of recovery and distance themselves
- Be a trigger that gives you an urge to use
Knowing that people you love may not be able to help you in your recovery is hard to process. Sometimes, they don’t have the means to help us through our struggles, even if they really want to be involved. If you have loved ones who are sober, they may have to distance themselves from you to avoid triggers and maintain a boundary. If your family or friends have lost someone to drug or alcohol use, they may feel helpless and reminded of past trauma.
Recognizing that family and friends can’t help you maintain sobriety is a painful feeling, but know that the road doesn’t end here. Once you can figure out that you need help with recovery and what your loved ones can’t provide you, it can be easier to seek out others. Like therapists, peer supporters, and others, who can support you in places your loved ones can’t.
Finding treatment is hard, but not impossible
Many people who can’t seek help from family and friends often seek help from professionals. Sometimes, this process can be very traumatic.
- Cops may be the first to respond to a mental health crisis. If you call 911, police may be the first to show up when you’re having a mental health crisis. This may cause you a lot of anxiety and make you fearful of going to jail if you tell a cop that you use. When you’re alone in your journey, you may even feel helpless in interactions with police.
- Visiting an emergency room can also be challenging. Discrimination against people who use drugs is very real in medical environments. You may feel that doctors don’t take your pain seriously. You may be at risk for going to jail for telling the hospital that you use. You also may need a referral from the ER to a rehab. And, because the criteria for being referred is confusing, you may not understand why you were or were not referred to a clinic.
- Getting into and staying in rehab can be difficult. Entering rehab is a great first step to recovery, but can be hard to access. If you’re not referred by a doctor, you may have to do your own research to find a facility. Without help, trying to find the right place to recover can feel overwhelming. Using drugs can also co-occur with other conditions like depression, and some centers don’t treat multiple conditions at once. You may worry about counselors and nurses not taking your concerns seriously or prioritizing your treatment. Other centers may be quick to refer patients back to the ER if they don’t have the capacity to treat someone. And being kicked out of treatment can be a major setback on the road to recovery.
- Other treatment options aren’t easy to access. Being able to have affordable insurance that most providers take is unfortunately a luxury. Even if you have the insurance and means to pay, you still may not be able to access care right away. In the U.S., for every 350 people who need access to mental health care, there is only 1 mental health provider . The demand for mental health support continues to grow, waitlists continue to get longer, and, on average, it takes a person over a decade to seek treatment after the onset of symptoms .
Thinking about the barriers to getting treatment may make you want to give up. But finding the right support system is not impossible. Since you were able to recognize that you had a problem with drug or alcohol use, you are also more than able to overcome obstacles that stand in the way of your sobriety. You can start by:
- Attending peer support meetings. Organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step programs can provide safe spaces for you to talk about your journey to sobriety and relate to others who are going through similar struggles.
- Contacting local community resources. Many lawmakers are starting to work with schools, community centers, and public mental health centers to help connect people to treatment options.
- Doing research online. This could be a way to get loved ones involved in your recovery so you don’t feel as overwhelmed when trying to find someone to talk to. You can visit MHA Screening to learn more about warmlines, therapy options, and how to navigate an addiction. SAMHSA’s Treatment Services Locator can help you find options to see a provider.
My trick: How would your younger self feel about you today? Would you be proud? Don’t give up. Keep on trying. What motivates you? Why do you want to get better? Root yourself in those reasons so you can continue to push forward.
Trying to become sober all on your own can be really scary. You may find yourself discouraged and comparing your journey to others. Or setting unrealistic goals, leaving you more frustrated. In these moments, it’s important to think about what you want out of yourself.
What gives you hope? Having control over your life? Being able to connect with loved ones again? Just having a sense of accomplishment?
You may have a voice inside of you telling you to give up, but, it’s ok to not be ok. Define your purpose and use it to motivate yourself to seek help. Sometimes, your hope may be tested because barriers to treatment make it hard to believe that recovery is possible. But it is. The failing of the system is not your failing. Yes, you may have to work harder to find treatment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. You absolutely can.
- Reinert, M, Fritze, D. & Nguyen, T. (October 2022). “The State of Mental Health in America 2023” Mental Health America, Alexandria VA. https://mhanational.org/research-reports/state-mental-health-america-2023
- Wang, P. S., Berglund, P. A., Olfson, M., & Kessler, R. C. (2004). Delays in Initial Treatment Contact after First Onset of a Mental Disorder. In Health Services Research (Vol. 39, Issue 2, pp. 393–416). Wiley. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1361014/