The Crisis of Under-treatment of Severe Substance Abuse Disorder

The Doctor Weighs In
6 min readDec 23, 2018

By: Thomas G. Kimball, PhD

Here are some of the reasons why it is so difficult for those who suffer mental health and/or severe substance use disorder to access appropriate treatment.

Photo Source: iStock Photo

We are in the midst of a crisis of untreated and undertreated mental health and substance use disorders. The negative impact and consequences for individuals, families, communities, and our nation are staggering. We, as a nation, are hurting.

A primary factor that is fueling this crisis is difficulty accessing meaningful and extended help for those who suffer from these disorders. Barriers to care include the following:

  • The cost of treatment
  • Lack of coordination and information flow across areas of care

Adding to the problems with access are the shortage of mental health providers in general and the lack of training on mental health and substance use disorders specifically. Without meaningful interventions to overcome these barriers this crisis will only get worse over time.

How big is the problem?

Just shy of 44 million people over the age of 18 in the United States suffer from a mental illness. That is around 18% of the U.S. population — or almost 1 in 5…



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