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Substance Abuse & Mental Health Hotlines: Where to Get Help Now

Typically, crisis lines are staffed by paid medical professionals like therapists, or trained volunteers. They can help you understand the crisis you are experiencing, manage symptoms like high anxiety or depression, and offer follow-up check-ins.

Struggling with Addiction? Get Help Now

Substance abuse hotlines connect you with trained, caring professionals. Some hotlines are designed for people in crisis due to alcohol, drugs, or mental health issues. Others are designed for a specific community (such as veterans). 

Many hotlines can offer more than support. At the end of a call, you could get linked to the services you need for recovery.

The benefits of substance abuse hotlines include the following:

  • Availability: Most hotlines answer calls and texts around the clock.
  • Confidentiality: You can remain completely anonymous while working with a hotline.
  • Professionalism: Hotlines are maintained by experienced staff or volunteers.

Although some people have used crisis lines as their main form of assistance, long-term treatment options provide better outcomes for more people. Boca Recovery Center focuses on addiction recovery, and our 24-hour helpline allows you to ask questions about treatment anytime.

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Hotlines: Now in Text Form

Crisis lines, helplines, and hotlines — getting help has, for decades, seemed as simple as picking up your phone and giving someone a quick call.

With the boom in internet access, text messaging, and smartphones, nearly everyone has a phone near them that they can use to make calls or send messages. Pew Research found that 97% of Americans own a mobile phone of some type, and 85 percent of these are smartphones.

While text-based programs like apps and messenger services dominate much smartphone use, 37% of people still use their smartphones to make phone calls. However, to reach more people, helplines and hotlines also often have a texting service, so you can chat with someone during a moment of crisis without making a call.

There are also, increasingly, non-crisis options for calls, texts, or telehealth. For example, an artificial intelligence program called Woebot provides a low-level form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to users, which can encourage them to manage immediate experiences and seek help from a counselor for long-term needs.

The idea of crisis lines began in San Francisco in 1961 when Bernard Mayes set up a suicide prevention hotline. There was one single, red telephone in the center of the city’s Tenderloin district, and some ads on bus lines to encourage people to use the hotline for help. Mr. Mayes was a priest from England, as well as a US-based correspondent for the BBC.

Since that initial phone line, numbers for all kinds of crisis support have been developed to help those struggling with mental health problems, substance abuse, and other struggles.

Standards for Crisis Hotlines & Support

Most crisis line services operate on these criteria:

  • They are free of charge (increasingly including text messages).
  • They are nonjudgmental.
  • They provide important emotional support and connection that the caller might lack otherwise.
  • They are staffed by trained volunteers, paid mental health professionals, or paid paraprofessionals.
  • They are anonymous, so your name and other identifying features are not necessary to accessing care.
  • They are confidential, with exceptions based on extreme emergency circumstances (like a drug overdose).
  • They consider each phone call or text message thread one single session, with no fixed time limit.
  • Sometimes, they include follow-up calls or texts to ensure safety and well-being.
  • Where appropriate, they provide referrals to services and support, like help with housing.
  • When needed, there are translation services between languages or for those with hearing impairments.

Many mental and substance abuse helplines have also provided face-to-face services at drop-in centers, outreach prevention and education programs, and self-help information, including help finding mutual support groups.

How Callers & Texters Use Modern Hotlines

Hotlines that help people in crisis with their mental health or substance abuse can help with finding treatment nearby, often referring callers to hospitals, mutual support groups, or inpatient rehabilitation. 

A drug or alcohol crisis can mean something different to everyone, but it might include relapse back into substance abuse after treatment, a suspected overdose, or a mental health crisis occurring while intoxicated.

Crisis hotlines for mental health or substance abuse issues are not intended to serve as a sole source of treatment. One study examining repeated callers suggested there were concerns that some people did not have another source of counseling or medical help. 

But hotlines can be a gateway to finding other sorts of treatment. They often serve as a way for someone in crisis to get help finding treatment options, which might otherwise seem overwhelming.

​​Substance abuse hotline operators can be treatment admission professionals, counselors, or volunteers. All of them have different qualifications and backgrounds. While they don’t provide formal counseling, operators can provide real help.

For example, some counselors are trained in crisis de-escalation. They know how to help you explore your feelings, set goals, and feel positive about the future. Crisis counseling can help you feel better in the moment.

Other counselors know how to use motivational enhancement therapy to encourage you to think critically about your substance abuse and how it’s impacting your life right now. These conversations could make you more likely to enter treatment than you would be otherwise.

What to Expect from Substance Abuse Hotlines

While every hotline is a little different, most involve the same basic steps.

You’re not required to provide your real name or location, but the hotline operator will probably open up the conversation with general questions about your mental health and substance abuse. You might be asked if your life is in danger or if you’re planning to hurt yourself or someone else. You might also be asked about the substances you use and how long the problem has lasted.

Your operator might also help you understand the treatment options available in your area, how much they might cost, and how they could help you feel better.

Everything you say when you call a substance abuse hotline is confidential. You don’t have to discuss anything you don’t want to. Remembering that your operator is there to help you, not judge you, could allow you to feel more open and honest.

If you call a substance abuse hotline from a treatment provider, expect follow-up calls. Someone from your treatment team may contact you to confirm when you’re coming to the facility. This person may also be able to arrange your transportation to care.

Crisis Hotlines Offering Immediate Support

If you are in crisis, there is immediate help. These crisis line options can help.

OrganizationWho Is It For?What Services Are Available?
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) Crisis LineAnyone struggling with substance abuse issuesSAMHSA’s national helpline offers round-the-clock support for anyone experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis. SAMHSA is a government organization that provides detailed information on its website about mental and behavioral problems along with current evidence-based treatments. The person answering the crisis line can help you navigate treatment options near you.
National Suicide Prevention HotlinePeople struggling with thoughts of suicideMany people struggling with mental health or substance abuse crises might consider self-harm. This hotline is available for callers who need to talk about painful feelings or thoughts, and get help for long-term support.
Disaster Distress HotlineMaintained by SAMHSA, this hotline supports those overcoming stress related to natural or human-caused disasters. Experiencing these events can cause trauma and lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).This hotline is targeted at reducing the intensity of immediate stress and then helping callers find support.
Veterans Crisis LineVeteransFormer U.S. Armed Forces service members are at greater risk of PTSD and other mental health and substance abuse conditions that are related to combat. This hotline is run by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to support veterans in immediate need, and the service can help to coordinate long-term support for callers.
LGBT National Help Center  People who identify as LGBTQIAGet help with coming out, talk about the issues blocking your recovery, and connect with treatment providers.
National Alliance on Mental IllnessPeople struggling with mental health issuesGet help from peers who understand your issues and can connect you with support groups and NAMI affiliates.

Boca Recovery Center’s 24-Hour Helpline

The Boca Recovery Center helpline is available to anyone who has questions regarding substance abuse treatment options. While not strictly a crisis line, representatives can help you coordinate care at a nearby Boca Recovery Center.

Someone is available 24 hours a day to answer your questions about substance abuse, costs, and what potential treatment plans look like. You can set up an intake interview to begin your journey. You can also fill out a website form if you have questions about treatment for a loved one.

If you are in crisis, calling a crisis hotline can get you immediate support to manage your emotions and consider your future plans. If you have questions about your future, call Boca to set up an intake session.

Updated April 23, 2024
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