Substance Use

Barriers to Treating Substance Use in Rural Areas

Substance Use In Rural Areas

Living in a rural area often means foregoing access to reliable healthcare services. Among them is substance use treatment, which is both highly needed – and severely lacking – in America’s rural communities.

Roughly 15% of the U.S. population lives in rural areas. While substance use disorder (SUD) is a problem for people in all geographic locations, substance use in rural areas has been on the rise, as well as SUD-related injuries and deaths. And with few resources available for those in need of treatment, it’s more important than ever to identify the barriers to care that exist and get creative when it comes to solving them.

If you or a loved one are struggling with SUD in a rural area, please know that help is available. Below, we’re exploring the barriers to treatment for mental health that rural areas face and the resources that are helping fill in the gaps and ensure people get the help they need.

What the Statistics Show

Rural America has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. Compared to urban areas, the per capita opioid overdose rate is 45% higher in rural towns, with those in rural areas facing a greater risk of death from opioid overdose.

And it’s not just opioids that are the problem. Adolescents and young adults in rural areas are more likely to abuse alcohol and methamphetamine than their urban and suburban peers. They’re also more likely to engage in risky behaviors like drunk driving.

However, despite these troubling statistics, rural communities continue to lack access to SUD treatment. This situation impacts the health outcomes of individuals in rural areas who are already grappling with substance use challenges and also underscores an urgent and pressing demand for treatment options that can truly make a difference.

Barriers to Rural Drug Use Counseling and Treatment

It’s not just comprehensive outpatient and inpatient treatment centers that are missing in rural communities. Basic rural drug use counseling is also tough to come by – part of the larger disparities in mental health treatment that those in these parts of the country must cope with.

There are a multitude of barriers that exist when it comes to rural SUD treatment, including:

  • Limited personnel
  • Lack of specialized mental health care services, particularly mental health treatment for co-occurring disorders
  • Smaller facilities with fewer spots available for patients
  • Lack of reliable transportation
  • Social barriers, shame, and less anonymity
  • Lack of financial means and health insurance

It’s not just treatment services that are hard to come by in small towns. Substance use prevention and support services may also be lacking, creating an unfortunate cycle that can be very difficult to break on both an individual and a societal level.

How Do Rural Areas Receive SUD Care?

We may not have nearly enough rural substance use support systems in place, but there are options available for individuals who are struggling with SUD. This includes virtual support services that ensure quality care can be found wherever needed.

So, where should you start if you’re looking for treatment? Here are two options for accessing reliable SUD care regardless of where you live.

1. Local Treatment Search Providers

Several sites are useful for helping people locate the SUD treatment centers that are closest to them, including:

If treatment is not available nearby, or if an individual does not have transportation, some substance use treatment centers will provide transportation to their facilities free of charge in certain geographic regions.

2. Tech-Driven Recovery Support

From mobile apps to online counseling to virtual support groups, technology-based resources are helping fill in many of the gaps that exist in rural mental health care. We recommend starting your search for web-based support on SmartRecovery.org, which offers science-based tools and support resources for individuals with a range of addictive behaviors, plus a helpful online meeting search feature for finding local and virtual meetings.

Find Help for Substance Use, No Matter Where You Live

Living in a rural community may make it difficult to access substance use treatment, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. At Synergy Health Programs, we’re doing our part to spread awareness about barriers to mental health treatment in rural areas, including the growing need for more medical professionals to provide care in these locations. Please contact us to learn more about our support resources and SUD treatment options in Connecticut, Florida, and Pennsylvania.

September 5th, 2023