Addiction is a prevalent disease in our society, and yet there are many addiction myths. People make assumptions about addiction based on erroneous portrayals of it in the media. Some of these addiction myths are just outdated information, since we’ve learned more about the concept of addiction and effective treatment modalities in recent decades.
Circulating false information about addiction keeps people in the dark about the real signs of and possible treatments for this chronic disease. Many of these myths perpetuate the stigma associated with addiction, causing people who need help to continue to hide their condition.
It is important to talk about addiction factually to erase the shame and embarrassment that can be associated with the disease. By dispelling the myths that keep addicts in the shadows, we can help more people reach out for the treatment they need.
Myth #1 — Addicts Stick to One Substance of Choice
People like to make a distinction between alcoholics and drug addicts, for instance, implying that you might be one or the other but not both. The common myth is that a person is either a drinker or a drug user. Within those distinctions, there are further classifications. For instance, a person might be addicted to injecting himself with drugs as opposed to taking drugs in pill form. There are smokers and snorters as well.
Truth — Most Addicts Mix Substances
Addiction is not so much about the substance as it is about the experience. Someone who uses alcohol or other recreational drugs to alter their mood is not loyal to one substance. When they are under the influence of any substance, they’re more likely to take risks and make poor decisions. Experimenting with different recreational drugs often happens under these circumstances.
People who are struggling with addiction are focused on the high. As the addiction grows, they need more substances to get that same feeling. In this way, the addiction itself leads to experimenting with stronger drugs or combining drugs with alcohol.
Myth #2 — Drug Addicts Are Bad People
Everyone has heard this stereotype before. Even if it is not overtly explained, it is an attitude that is implied. The image of an addict is a dirty bum hanging out in some back alley half-stoned all the time and looking to score again. Addiction is believed to be some sort of character flaw that afflicts the poor or uneducated. The stereotype is perpetuated, of course, with news reports of crimes being committed by people high on drugs.
Truth — Addiction Is Not Specific to Any One Demographic
Addiction actually has nothing to do with economics or intelligence. Not everyone suffering from addiction is abusing illegal drugs. Some of them are taking medications legitimately prescribed to them by their doctor. Some addicts are simply participating in society’s sanctioned rituals, like having a cocktail before dinner. Addiction is not a goal of anyone’s, but when it happens, you are powerless to stop it without help.
Addiction is a very powerful force that is difficult to resist. Once the addiction forms, a person’s entire life begins to change. Everyone and everything that is important to you takes second place to the high. Addiction focuses people exclusively on itself, and their whole lives become about getting more money to buy more substances to get high again soon.
Addiction changes people’s behavior, causing them to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. They take risks with their life and health because they’re driven to continue getting high. Addiction forces normally law-abiding citizens to commit crimes. They will do anything they have to do to get the drugs they need. Addicts are not bad people — they are people driven to do bad things.
Myth #3 — Addicts Have to Hit Rock Bottom
Often, people believe there is this mythical place called “rock bottom” where people struggling with addiction go to begin their treatment. The myth is that if an addict hasn’t asked for help yet or hasn’t gotten themselves into a treatment program, it is because their situation isn’t bad enough. The addiction will get worse, and the addict’s life will fall apart, but that will trigger a cry for help. Once an addict reaches out for help, healing will begin. There is no place to go but up from “rock bottom.”
Truth — There Is No Rock Bottom Required for Addiction Recovery
Some people in recovery will refer to their last moments as an active drug user as “rock bottom,” the worst circumstances of their life. They will describe how in that horrible moment, they had an epiphany that led them to reach out for help. Some of them will even credit memories of that “rock bottom” moment for continuing to motivate them along their difficult journey to recovery. They’ll do anything to not end up back there again.
For others in addiction recovery, their journey was very different. They figured out they needed help and knew where to get it. Or they had a trusted friend or loved one drag them into some recovery program and force them to get clean. Addiction recovery comes about in a number of different ways because addiction itself is a very personal experience.
Thinking that someone suffering from addiction will get help when their situation gets worse is like saying they’re okay because they’re not dead yet. There is no magic trigger that drives addicts to recovery, and for some, there is no trigger at all. Sadly, if left alone on their current path, some addicts will never seek help.
Myth #4 — Addicts Could Stop Using Drugs If They Really Wanted To
It is a commonly heard myth that if an addict wants to get clean, it is easy. People may think it is just a matter of putting down the pipe and going to rehab. Everyone is doing it, even those small-brained celebrities. People then assume that those who continue to abuse drugs and ruin their lives don’t really want to change. They may think addicts secretly enjoy being the life of the party, the screw-up in the crowd, the subject of everyone’s pity, and that when they are ready to grow up, they will stop using drugs.
Truth — Addiction Is Not a Choice
For some people, recreational drug use is a choice. Out of curiosity, peer pressure or whatever drives people, they try ecstasy at a party. For others, drinking alcohol is an adult rite of passage. They naturally follow their societal instincts to have a beer at the game or sip a martini after work. These activities are voluntary to the extent that free will could override social pressures.
Once addiction takes hold, however, there are no more choices involved in drinking and drugging. Addiction is more than just a casual high on a random Friday night. Addiction is an obsession with continuing the pattern of behavior. Drugs cause changes in brain chemistry that drive certain behaviors. Addiction moves the desire for drugs to the center of your universe, eclipsing all other priorities. It is a force stronger than any one person and requires professional help to overcome.
Myth #5 — Prescription Drugs Are Safe
People often think there is a difference between street drugs and prescription drugs. The medication you get from your doctor is safe. They may say, “If it wasn’t safe to take, the doctor wouldn’t prescribe it.” Sometimes you need a very strong drug to relieve the pain of surgery or an injury, but the myth is that as long as you take the drug for a reason, you can’t get addicted to it — that’s why these drugs are legal.
Truth — Many Prescription Drugs Are More Addictive Than Heroin
Drugs have to be approved by the FDA before they can go on the market in the US. The FDA certifies that the drug is effective for the condition it is supposed to treat and provides dosage guidelines. Nothing in the FDA approval process assures that drugs are not addictive. In fact, the addictive quality of drugs in certain classifications, like opioids, is well known.
The prescription system in this country also does not monitor how and when a drug is taken after the prescription is filled. Once the doctor writes you a prescription, he has no control over the use of those drugs. Many pain relievers are prescribed on an as-needed basis. If your pain subsides after just a few doses, the doctor does not collect the remaining pills from you. Many people keep those leftovers in the medicine cabinet where anyone, such as a curious teenager, can access them.
Myth #6 — You Can’t Be an Addict If You Hold Down a Job
The stereotype of a dug addict or alcoholic is that they pass out in public, skip work until they get fired and are generally useless members of society. But according to the myth, no matter how much you party, if you hold down a job, you must not be an addict. Society tends to think an addict is someone who forgets to pick their kids up from school, shows up to work hung over, and beats their spouse when they’re angry. With that stereotype in mind, anyone who is a responsible parent, loving spouse and successful professional, therefore, could not be an addict.
Truth — Responsibility and Addiction Are Not Mutually Exclusive
Addiction is not measured by your level of responsibility. There are plenty of people who can’t seem to hold a job and do not tend to family responsibilities properly but also do not drink or use drugs. Irresponsibility might be one sign of addiction, but it is not the only one.
Maintaining good performance at work does not indicate that a substance abuse problem is under control. Substance abuse is often hidden, and one of the ways to disguise this behavior is to be sure you get up every morning and go to work. Sometimes addicts think no one will suspect there is a problem as long as they maintain a normal routine.
People who are addicted to substances will do just about anything to continue their habit. Sometimes that means going to work to earn the money you need to buy drugs. Sometimes it means showing up to work each day to meet your dealer. There are a lot of reasons why some addicts uphold their daily responsibilities.
Myth #7 — Relapse Is a Sign of Failure
When you get into addiction recovery, you learn pretty quickly that your biggest fear should be relapse. After going through detox, the worst thought is that you would relapse and have to detox all over again. According to this myth, relapse is the monster that keeps you up at night worrying that all your hard work in recovery could be worthless. When you hear stories in the news about celebrities going back to rehab, you may think they failed recovery and will never be well again.
Truth — Relapse Is Part of Recovery
Addiction recovery is a very personal journey that includes learning about the science of addiction. It also involves developing a new relationship with yourself based on introspection and an understanding of your own emotions. Finally, recovery incorporates behavioral modifications. Forming new healthy habits is the part that makes recovery last.
In recovery, you rebuild your entire life piece by piece into a healthy, happy, substance-free existence. That is a process that takes time and is not always smooth. The path through recovery is not straight. Rather, you circle back and repeat steps, gaining new understanding along the way. Sometimes relapse is part of the learning process. Even when you have to go back and repeat the earlier stages of recovery, they are never the same. You bring new insight and understanding from all of your experiences.
Myth #8 — Drugs Cause Permanent Brain Damage
Drugs affect behavior by interfering with brain chemistry. You can tell when someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol by the way they act. Many people believe that messing around with your brain chemistry too much is going to cause permanent brain damage, and there is no way to predict how many drugs your brain can handle before this happens.
Drugs kill precious brain cells at an unknown rate. This myth states that once you kill off a certain number of brain cells with drugs, you can never get them back — your brain is irreparably damaged, and no amount of rehab is going to make you whole again. Many recovered addicts are alive, but people may assume their brains don’t function normally due to their drug use.
Truth — Brain Cells Regenerate Just Like Other Cells in the Body
Recent research in brain science has changed the way we understand how drugs affect brain cells. Drugs do kill brain cells — that part is true. But brain cells actually regenerate just like other cells in the body. Most of your body renews itself at the cellular level every seven to 10 years.
The potential long-term brain damage from drugs is a bit more complicated than this myth implies. Brain cells die and regenerate all the time. You do not have control over the types of brain cells that regenerate, however. The brain is a very complicated organ with thousands of different types of cells to perform different functions. Brain chemistry, the production and interaction of neurotransmitters, neurons and other structures in the brain determine every thought you have.
If too many of your happy-thought brain cells die and are replaced by negative-thought brain cells, you can see how your overall thought patterns could be affected. But this replacement process can also work in the other direction. Bad-thought brain cells can be replaced with good ones.
With the right recovery program, brain cell regeneration could be guided toward a more positive exchange of cells. In this case, an addict in recovery is not damaged goods, but in fact, they are better than they were before.
Myth #9 — Addiction Is a Sign of Weakness
Some people can use drugs and never get addicted, while others become addicted after just one dose. If addiction is not universal, then people may think it must just be a sign of weakness. The myth is that people with weak character or minds that are not strong give in to the pull of addiction, and anyone with enough determination can avoid becoming addicted.
Truth — There Is No One Specific Character Profile for Addiction
As much as we know about addiction and how to treat it, there are still some things we do not know. There is a genetic component to addiction, but it has not been fully isolated yet. We cannot say for sure, based on genetic testing, who is predisposed to addiction and who is not.
Obviously, some people seem almost immune to addiction while others struggle to overcome it. Addiction has both physical and emotional components to it. There are some substances that are likely to elicit an addictive response, but it is also possible to become addicted to a substance that could be considered benign. Some people become addicted to food, exercise or other people.
There is a lot more to learn about the root causes of addiction. We do know enough to know that it is not as simple as giving into some sort of weakness or other character flaw.
Myth # 10 — If Your Father Was a Drunk, You Will Be One Too
You’ve seen this played out in movies and maybe even in real life. Addiction is a genetic condition that is often passed on through the men in a family. You know the neighborhood drunk had a son who was just like him. That poor kid tried to grow up right, but he didn’t have a chance. He couldn’t help it that addiction was in his genes. When you meet a man who drinks a bit too much, and you find out his father was a drunk, people assume he’s going to be an addict himself soon.
Truth — Genetics Is Not the Determining Factor
There is a genetic component to addiction, although we’re not able to clearly define it. Research shows that if one of your parents was an alcoholic, you are more likely prone to addiction. Addiction has been shown to run in families.
Genetics is just a small part of the equation, though. If you are aware of a genetic predisposition toward addiction in your family, there are several ways to counteract that and avoid falling into addiction yourself. Through behavioral therapy, many people come to understand behavior patterns passed down to them from older generations and how these habits affect their own lives. Behavior can be changed, or more importantly, avoided before it becomes a personal habit.
Learn More About Addiction
Almost one out of every ten Americans over the age of 12 is suffering from addiction. That is roughly 23.5 million addicts, but only about 11% of them get treatment. The 10 myths mentioned as well as other prevalent myths about addiction keep people from understanding this disease and getting the treatment they could benefit from.
If you or someone you love might be suffering from addiction, do not hesitate to reach out to JourneyPure Emerald Coast for help. There is no shame in getting help. The shame is in suffering from a disease that could be treated and living the broken life of an addict rather than building the healthy, happy, substance-free life you deserve. Call us today at (615) 907-5928 to learn more.