Think about common ideas surrounding addiction.
Addiction is the addict’s own fault.
Addicts are bad people.
Addiction only affects certain types of people. It can’t affect me.
While society has improved in understanding addiction, a lot remains unclear, especially for those who have never struggled with a drug or alcohol addiction. The media’s portrayal is partly to blame here; Still, it is also our responsibility to stay up-to-date with breakthroughs in addiction research to better understand how to help those who suffer from this disease.
Check out these five common myths about addiction, along with the corresponding truths.
Myth #1: Addiction is a Choice
Someone chooses to drink or use drugs, so surely becoming addicted is a choice, right? No.
Addiction being as simple as a “choice” undermines complex causes and effects of how addiction works. Addicts struggle with a compulsion that ultimately changes their brain chemistry. The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as “a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences.”
After someone is addicted, they suffer from compulsive and uncontrollable drug use and need outside help to stop. The addiction becomes the single most powerful motivator to the addict, and he or she will do anything, absolutely anything, for the drug. At this point, any choice is removed.
Additionally, some studies suggest a genetic component to addiction. A family history of substance abuse can be a precursor as well as uncontrollable environmental factors. Addiction research shows that it has nothing to do with not having willpower or not being strong enough.
Truth: Addiction is a Chronic Medical Disease that Affects the Brain.
Myth #2: Addiction Only Affects Certain Types of People
If you picture an “addict,” what type of person do you picture? Maybe someone who grew up in a “bad” neighborhood or someone who is in and out of jail. The media is partly to blame for the “addict” stereotype. However, the truth is that addiction does not discriminate, and no one is immune.
Many addicts hold down jobs and have families. They are referred to as “functional,” and the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that approximately 32% of alcoholics are considered “functional,” although this number may be low because other sources indicate that this number is higher.
The bottom line is that addiction affects people of all ages, genders, races, geographic locations, personalities, socioeconomic statuses, and education.
Truth: Addiction Can Affect Anyone.
Myth #3: Going to Treatment will Fix the Addiction
Most addicts don’t go to treatment of their own free will. They are either court-ordered to go or given an ultimatum from an employer or loved ones. However, whether coerced or not, treatment can certainly be a pivotal point in an addict’s life and help him or her to stop using.
However, it’s important to know that addiction treatment will not “fix” an addict. The psychological aspects hold the key to recovery, and treating the mind is not as straightforward as treating the body. Addiction is a chronic disease without a one-time cure. In other words, the recovery work comes into play as soon as the addict steps out of a treatment center.
Truth: Addiction is a Chronic Disease that Needs to Be Managed Daily.
Myth #4: Prescription Drugs Aren’t as Addictive or Dangerous as Street Drugs.
Since doctors prescribe prescription drugs, they certainly can’t be that addictive, right? Nothing could be farther than the truth. Prescription drugs like ADHD medication or narcotic pain medication can be and are abused if not taken under a doctor’s supervision. For example, a report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that an estimated 18 million people in the U.S. misused prescription medications in the past year.
Prescription drug abuse is a prevalent, growing issue, especially among young adults. Unfortunately, the NIDA also reports that nearly five people a day die from a prescription drug overdose.
Truth: Prescription Drugs Can Be as Dangerous as Street Drugs.
Myth #5: Relapse is a Sign of Failure
Those in recovery are taught to fear relapse, and certainly, this is a legitimate fear. However, often shame is linked to relapse, which can be detrimental to someone’s recovery. The truth is that relapse is common. In fact, the NIDA finds that relapse statistics show that 40-60% of people relapse after completing addiction treatment.
Relapse in no way is a predictor that someone won’t “get it” or that they are unable to get sober. Relapse is a common part of recovery and not an individual failure. Remember, addicts are battling a disease, not a character flaw or shortcoming.
Truth: Relapse is Part of Recovery and Does Not Mean the Addict is a Failure.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse sums up addiction well:
“Addiction is a lot like other diseases, such as heart disease. Both disrupt the normal, healthy functioning of an organ in the body, both have serious harmful effects, and both are, in many cases, preventable and treatable. If left untreated, they can last a lifetime and may lead to death.”
Understanding myths surrounding addiction is essential for supporting those who suffer. Addiction research has revealed truths about this disease which helps shed light on how addiction really works and the best courses of treatment.