How do adults with substance dependence access treatment services? A qualitative descriptive study of help-seeking and behaviour change

Adults are less likely to access health services for substance use disorders, than any other psychiatric disorder, despite high prevalence, morbidity and mortality. Comorbid substance use and psychiatric disorders cause moderate to severe illness and disability, yet only half of people diagnosed perceive the need for and then access health care. Of the people that do access treatment, many drop out or are dissatisfied with the service.

This study explored client experiences of help-seeking and accessing drug treatment services. To understand how people engage in health intervention for substance misuse and comorbid mental health and welfare issues.

A qualitative descriptive research design was utilised. Eight participants were recruited from drug treatment programs at one community health setting that serviced a larger regional area in Victoria, Australia. In-depth interviews focussed on experiences of substance use, health issues, help-seeking and service utilisation were used to collect the data. Each interview was digitally-recorded and transcribed verbatim by the researcher.

Interview transcripts and other descriptive data sources including field notes, were thematically coded using principles of phenomenology. From this, four descriptive themes emerged; polydrug use, comorbid health conditions, help-seeking experiences, and health behaviour change. Findings and discussion provide a valuable insight on the client experience of problematic drug use and the influence of illness, attitudes and structural barriers on treatment access.

Help-seeking was facilitated by social support networks and regional inter-agency partnerships and service models. Future research and changes to health policy are strongly recommended to consider issues of polydrug use and comorbidity, primarily mental illness, employment and homelessness.

Ms Nerida Hyett, La Trobe Rural Health School
Co- Authors: Dr Virginia Dickson-Swift, La Trobe Rural Health School
Dr Carol McKinstry, La Trobe Rural Health School

Nerida will present at the:
4th Australian Rural and Remote Mental Health Symposium to be held on the 19 - 21 November 2012, Adelaide, South Australia.

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