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Substance Use Disorders: New Research by the Ad Council Research Institute Outlines How Best to Reach, Encourage and Support those Open to Treatment

The report debuts as the Ad Council embarks on a new campaign to help individuals who have or are at risk of developing substance use disorders navigate resources and start their recovery journeys

New York, NY (June 6, 2023) – In the midst of a growing national crisis of drug overdose deaths, the Ad Council Research Institute (ACRI) announces today its findings of a mixed-method research study identifying how to reach, encourage and support individuals open to treatment for substance use disorders (SUDs). The report hones in on the audiences most impacted by or at risk for substance use disorders, identifies those open to seeking treatment, deciphers barriers and motivators to seeking treatment and informs message development to help individuals explore resources and recovery. Results shine a light on opportunities to reach and influence those who are open to treatment, regardless of whether an individual has or is at risk of a substance use disorder, and serve as the cornerstone for a new campaign from the Ad Council launching later this year.

Key findings reveal commonalities of those who have or are at high risk for a substance use disorder as well as the barriers and motivators for seeking help:

  • Beyond demographics, respondents in this study had an overarching factor in common: trauma.
    • Whether experienced in childhood or as an adult, a single event or a lifetime of traumatic experiences was shown to be the most prevalent factor respondents pointed to as a reason they started using and why they continue to use.
  • 38% of respondents with a current substance use disorder and 34% of those at risk don’t think they can afford treatment or that their insurance would cover it, making it the top reason respondents delay their decision to seek treatment for substance use.
    • The next top reason differed among respondents with current substance use disorders and those at risk: not wanting to be a burden to their friends/family (36% current SUD, 23% at risk) and feeling they can cut back or handle things themselves (34% current SUD, 29% at risk).
  • Being present and healthy for their children was the top motivator for respondents open to treatment, both those with a current substance use disorder (67%) and those at risk of one (59%).
    • The next most motivating factor was to feel better and be healthier (66% current SUD, 58% at risk).

Insights derived from the study will inform a new campaign the Ad Council is exploring to help individuals who are at risk of developing or are currently impacted by substance use disorders navigate resources and start their recovery journeys.
 “This study highlights the potential to change outcomes, even save lives, of those who self-identify as being open to receiving treatment. It is critical that trusted messengers, organizations and local governments working to make a difference on the issue are equipped with the resources and messages to meet people where they are and help those most impacted to start their recovery,” said Derrick Feldmann, Managing Director, Ad Council Research Institute and the Ad Council Edge Strategic Consultancy.

While overall, concerns about affordability, shame and fear are key barriers to treatment, those respondents who are open to treatment from both groups (current substance use disorder and at risk) are most likely to consider mental health therapy/treatment (51% current SUD, 44% at risk) or a support group (45% each) if they decide to seek treatment. Other treatment options followed closely behind, particularly for respondents with a current substance use disorder:

  • Detoxification/stabilization: 43% current SUD, 35% at risk
  • Medication-assisted treatment: 41% current SUD, 31% at risk
  • Outpatient: 40% current SUD, 33% at risk
  • A 12-step program: 39% current SUD, 38% at risk

Shatterproof, a national organization focused on guiding communities, removing systemic barriers to recovery, mobilizing the country to advocate for change, and ending addiction stigma in the United States, provided issue expertise and guidance on the study. The national nonprofit also played an integral role in the development of the Ad Council's recent efforts tackling the overdose crisis, Real Deal on Fentanyl and Drop the F*Bomb.

“Substance use disorder (SUD) and the care for those with the disease is not a one size fits all situation,” said Kirsten Suto Seckler, chief marketing and communications officer for Shatterproof. “It is critical that we understand as much as possible on how to help our loved ones struggling with a SUD, especially those who over-index as being impacted more and having less access to treatment and services. We are facing a public health crisis that is taking the lives of more than 105,000 people a year, 11 people an hour. Every insight is crucial to implement the best solutions to save lives.”

According to a report released earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there are 46.3 million people over the age of 12 in the United States with substance use disorders – that’s 16.5% of the population in the United States. This includes 29.5 million people who were classified as having an alcohol use disorder and 24 million people who were classified as having a drug use disorder. The study also found that in 2021, 94% of people aged 12 or older with a substance use disorder did not receive any treatment—nearly all of which was because they didn’t think they needed it. As the overdose crisis continues, its reach is expanding to all kinds of American communities, rural, suburban and urban alike. Similar to other public health threats such as COVID-19, drug overdose is also disproportionately impacting BIPOC communities. Additionally, certain communities of color experience reduced access to quality healthcare and, in some regions, also have reduced access to life-saving drugs like naloxone (e.g., Narcan, Evzio).

Substance Use Disorders: Identifying How to Reach, Encourage and Support those Open to Treatment provides a deeper look into the individuals impacted by or at risk for developing a substance use disorder and how to best develop messaging to engage those individuals on a journey toward wellness and recovery. Download the full report here.

About the Ad Council and ACRI
The Ad Council convenes creative storytellers to educate, unite and uplift audiences by opening hearts, inspiring action and accelerating change around the most pressing issues in America. Since the non-profit’s founding, the organization and its partners in advertising, media, marketing and tech have been behind some of the country’s most iconic social impact campaigns – Smokey Bear, A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste, Love Has No Labels, Tear the Paper Ceiling and many more. With a current focus on mental health, gun safety, the opioid epidemic, skill-based hiring and other critical issues, the Ad Council’s national campaigns encompass advertising and media content, ground game and community efforts, trusted messenger and influencer engagement, employer programs, among other innovative strategies to move the needle on the most important issues of the day.

To learn more or get involved, visit, join the Ad Council's communities on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter, and view campaign creative on YouTube.

The Ad Council Research Institute (ACRI) leverages the Ad Council’s insight-driven approach to examine some of the most important social issues of our time. Building upon years of research expertise, ACRI works with brand, corporate and nonprofit partners and clients to conduct research to gain a deeper understanding of the public’s perceptions, attitudes and willingness to act on social issues; develop and test messaging and narratives for social good campaigns; help build knowledge on the role influencers or trusted messengers can play to move the public to act; and identify key performance indicators for communications initiatives, and the tools through which to measure, assess and optimize them over time. Learn more about ACRI and our 2022 research agenda here.

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