Addiction has been the subject of a long and drawn-out misinformation campaign. Myths regarding drug addiction are often shared and spread in an attempt to scare children away from using drugs. Unfortunately, this has a secondary effect of creating a stigma around drug use and addiction.Understanding the truth behind these myths is the first step in removing the stigma of addiction and making it easier for those who have a drug addiction to seek treatment.
Myth #1 – Drug Addiction is Voluntary
The first thing that many people say when hearing someone has a drug addiction is something along the lines of: “Well, they made the choice to use drugs.” While it’s true that using addictive substances is a voluntary decision the first or second time, over time something happens. As the drug use continues, both the body and brain undergo physical changes. They become truly dependent on the addictive substance to feel normal. In many cases, attempting to quit using without help can result in serious and even dangerous symptoms.
Myth #2 – Drug Addiction is a Character Flaw
Whether or not you become addicted to a substance has nothing to do with your character as a person. Every type of drug – whether illicit or prescription – has a method for changing the way your brain works. These changes can be small and unnoticeable at first. It may be something as small as altering your mood or something as significant as affecting your memory. Over time, the changes in the brain become so significant that you will do almost anything to continue using the drug – you simply no long know how to function without it.
It is important to realize that everyone is susceptible to substance abuse, and that anyone can become addicted. People may use alcohol to cope with stress or accidentally become addicted to painkillers after an injury. Someone struggling with an addiction is not just an “addict”, they are so much more than their addiction. While they have a substance abuse problem, it does not necessarily reflect who they are as an individual.
Myth #3 – Willpower is all You Need
This myth is very similar to myth #1. Many people believe that it’s possible to overcome a drug addiction through sheer willpower alone. However, this simply isn’t the case. Withdrawals are not only extremely difficult psychologically, they can make you very sick.
For example, caffeine is one of the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States today. Because it is legal, most consider it to be both mild and safe. However, caffeine can cause withdrawal symptoms such as severe headaches, fatigue, depressed mood, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and even muscle aches and nausea. For most people, experiencing just one or two of these symptoms is enough to send them running for a cup of coffee or soda. Imagine the withdrawals from a far more powerfully addictive substance. In some cases, the symptoms are not only debilitating – they are downright dangerous.
Myth #4 – You Need to Hit “Rock Bottom”
Of all of the myths on the list, this is perhaps one of the most dangerous. This is because for many people, “rock bottom” is too late to receive help. Each person’s definition of what that lowest level might be is different. For some, it could be losing contact with family or friends. For someone else it could be getting arrested. Unfortunately, some may not find their “rock bottom” until they’re in a hospital dying of an overdose.
There’s very little evidence that reaching a certain level of consequence, or even psychological desperation is in any way related to their chances of success in recovery. In fact, most evidence shows that it’s better to receive help sooner rather than later.
Myth #5 – Treatment with Medications Exchanges One Addiction for Another
At one time, this may have been the case. However, today hospitals often use medications during the detoxification process. Newer medications are also used after detox to help a patient stay clean. These medicines work by helping patients control their physical and psychological cravings for any addicting drugs. These medications work together with psychological and behavioral therapies to help patients break free of the addiction cycle permanently.
The best treatment centers, like those that work with Aid in Recovery, will sometimes administer medications in small doses to help individuals wean off the substance they are physically addicted to. This lessens the impact of the painful alternative, shock and withdrawal. Combined with proper dual diagnosis or dialectical behavior therapy, treatment centers ensure they are not replacing one addiction for another.
Myth #6 – Punishing an Addict Helps
This myth is along the same lines as Myth #4. Because addiction affects the way the brain and body function together, there is no evidence that punishing an addict will help them get clean in any way. You are essentially punishing them for something they cannot control – the way their brain functions. Those who are addicted to a substance need treatment, not punishment in order to get better.
Those with addictions could respond completely opposite to what was intended. Many individuals may continue to use out of spite, to relieve the stress of punishment, or simply not respond to punishment. Just as concerning is the method of punishment many people use. Many individuals will simply cut contact, eliminating the familial support or friendship they need in a dark period of their life. Others may attempt simply taking away their means of obtaining the substance, such as taking away their car keys. This is equally undesirable, as most often this is seen as a substitute for treatment. There is no replacement for professional addiction help, and forcing an addicted person to go cold turkey is as dangerous as it is ineffective.
Myth #7 – One Treatment Should Be Enough
Unfortunately, drug addiction is a chronic disorder. Just as chronic depression often requires several cycles of treatment or even ongoing treatment, the same is true of drug addiction. While there are some people who can receive treatment for an addiction one time and never need it again, others will need long-term treatment. Some may need repeated treatments before they are able to sustain their sobriety on their own.
The most important part of treatment is learning how to deal with circumstances outside of the rehab center that may trigger a relapse, and coping with the cravings or desire to abuse addictive substances. Relapse is no reason to give up, it’s an opportunity to learn, and indicates the journey to sobriety is not over. Don’t be afraid to be readmitted to a rehab center. There’s nothing embarrassing about still needing help, and your former counselors will be glad to see you taking the proper steps to becoming stronger, sober.
Myth #8 – Once Addicted, You Can Never Have a Normal Life
Once upon a time, people believed that once a person took drugs, they were forever changed. Their brain became like an egg that had been cracked and fried – it could never go back in the shell again. This view contributed widely to the current stigma placed on drug abuse and those addicted to both legal and illegal substances. The fact is that while some substances are neurotoxic, the damage can be healed over time. In fact, many people who receive timely treatment for their addiction go on to lead perfectly normal, healthy lives. They can have jobs and families just like anyone else.
Life does not stop or become ugly because someone has an addiction. It is a part of their journey, a challenge they are overcoming, but does not prevent them from having a career, children, passions, hobbies, and dreams. Humans make mistakes, and recovery is an important reminder to many people of what is valuable in their life. Recovery helps people truly evaluate their priorities, and redirect their life.
If you or someone you know has a drug addiction and would like information on how to receive treatment, please call 1-800-910-3734. Our addiction specialists will work with you to find a treatment option that fits both your schedule and your budget. We’re available 24/7, so there’s no reason to wait. Call now.