The Myths About Addiction
The myths about substance abuse and drug addiction are wide-ranging. Addiction is a prevalent issue in society, and it takes on many forms. Historically, substance dependency is perhaps the most misunderstood and the most demonized form of addiction. Myths about drug addiction abound, and many of them are flawed, or based on misconceptions about drugs in general.
Understanding addiction entails understanding its root causes as well as the effects it has on the mind and body of a user.
Some of the most common myths about substance abuse are that it is a strictly voluntary behavior, or an indication of a character defect. There are also beliefs that a person might be genetically programmed to be an addict and have no choice in the matter.
Additionally, there are plenty of misconceptions about substance abuse treatment, as far as its overall purpose and effectiveness in treating addicts.
Numerous factors play a role in a person becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs. Ultimately, it is a combination of body chemistry, mental health, social influences, and genetic makeup.
There is no “magic bullet” to prevent or cure a substance abuse disorder. Scientific research has come a long way in the terms of understanding addiction but has yet to arrive at a solution to the problem.
Consequently, it is important to take a critical and fact-based approach in de-bunking many of the popular myths about addiction. Understanding the hows and the whys of addiction can help you understand addicts themselves.
If you have a drug or alcohol-related disorder—or you’re simply not sure what to believe—reach out to us at 614-502-6247. We can help you separate fact from fiction and learn more about addiction recovery programs.
Historically, substance dependency is perhaps the most misunderstood and the most demonized form of addiction. Myths about drug addiction abound, and many of them are flawed or based on misconceptions about drugs in general.
Addiction Is Voluntary
This is perhaps the most common myth about substance abuse—that addicts simply have a willpower problem, or they choose to continue abusing a substance because they want to.
It’s true that addiction nearly always starts with a conscious choice. You choose to pick up a drink; you choose to try a drug for the first time; you may even choose to do it many times over. But after a certain point, substance use can become compulsive and even uncontrollable.
This is a result of a substance’s ability to both chemically and physically change the makeup of the brain.
Depending on the substance, brain cells can release large amounts of dopamine or alter serotonin levels. These chemicals control mood and feelings of pleasure. When a substance is introduced repeatedly, it disruptsd the brain’s ability to regulate them.
After long-term, regular use of a drug, normal activities no longer “spike” those levels to a point where a person feels much pleasure or satisfaction without the drug in their system. They start to feel that the only thing that makes them happy—or even able to function normally—is the drug itself.
Frequently, people also grow attached to the ritual of drinking or using—it morphs into a routine part of their daily activities. It becomes an ingrained habit that again, they are not sure how to function without.
Stopping your drinking or drug use before it becomes physiologically impossible to do so can be helpful in avoiding a long and difficult recovery process.
Addiction Is A Character Flaw
One of the oldest myths about addiction is that it is a problem of morality. Drug users are often seen as bad people, or people with a character defect.
In fairness, drug use can lead to bad decisions, as well as the tendency to engage in risky behavior, and frequently financial and social consequences.
Not to mention, the legality of drugs plays a large part in this perception. Most mind-altering substances are federally illegal, and even prescription use outside of a drug’s intended purpose is considered a crime. Many people view any type of drug use as a criminal act, so they tend to judge it as being fundamentally wrong.
But people also act differently and make poor choices that they wouldn’t otherwise make without a drug in their system.
Drug addiction is now commonly understood to be a disease of the brain. When a person is in active addiction, the drug becomes the single most powerful motivator in the their existence. Furthermore, their mind has changed in critical ways, which affects their mood, memory, motor-skills, and decision-making.
Thinking of it in terms of other illnesses, no one would consider someone with cancer or heart disease a bad person. Yes, certain actions may lead up to an illness, but once a person has acquired a disorder, their body takes over and they may be powerless to fight it.
If you grew up with an alcoholic or addicted parent, you might naturally have a negative view of substance abusers as people. This goes for anyone who’s been negatively affected by an addict during their life.
But understanding substance abusers as individuals with a medical condition helps others empathize with them, and calls attention to the need for abuse prevention and clinical rehabilitation.
Substance Abuse Disorder Is Genetic
Although genetics may play a role in addiction, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) asserts that:
“There is no single gene, or set of genes, that determines whether or not a person will become an addict. And even if a person’s parents are addicts, it doesn’t mean they will be too. Current addiction research shows that roughly 50% of addiction tendencies are attributable to genes…but leaves much up to environmental and other factors.
This contradicts the addiction myth that some people are simply born to be addicts. Even if you have genetic traits that make it more likely for you to get hooked on alcohol or other substances, it doesn’t mean you will. In the same way, some people without any negative genetic traits may still become substance abusers.
Again, in the end there are many factors that contribute to addiction. Genetics is just one piece of the puzzle. Linking a person’s addiction solely to their genetic makeup may leave significant causes unaddressed.
Prescription Drugs Are Safer Than Street Drugs
Since prescriptions come with a doctor’s seal of approval, it is a common substance abuse myth that they are safer than street drugs. This is far from the truth.
Prescription medication is medically beneficial, but only when it is prescribed to you and taken in the recommended dosage. Any use above that, or misuse of a drug for recreational purposes, can lead you into dangerous territory. Side effects of these drugs can be lethal, and they can be just as addictive as an illicit substance purchased off the street.
The perception is that prescription drugs are “cleaner” than drugs like coke, meth, or heroin. Yet they can be abused for the same reasons—and produce the same effects—as these illegal substances.
Even individuals with no previous addiction issues can become hooked on painkillers after a surgery or medical procedure.
Prescription drug abuse is a significant problem, particularly in the United States. A study in 2017 revealed that over 18 million Americans admitted to abusing or misusing a prescription drug in the previous year.
As a result, prescription drug use has been a major contributor to the nation’s opioid crisis. This includes overuse of medication as well as people obtaining prescription meds illegally for a variety of purposes.
It is important to recognize the misconception about drugs from a pharmacy being ultimately safer than drugs sold on the street.
Treatment Should Work The First Time
One of the most damaging myths about substance abuse is the belief that if you’re initially unsuccessful at treatment, there is no hope for getting better.
Substance addiction is a chronic disorder. This means that it does not simply go away the first time you address it. In fact, it never truly “goes away” at all.
While there are addicts who succeed in staying clean after their first attempt, they are not the norm. Even a successful rehabilitation involves continuous effort. It may be in the form of extended outpatient programs, continued therapy, or ongoing participation in a 12-step program.
If you were to enter a rehabilitation facility, you’d find just as many newcomers as you would people on their second, third, or even tenth try.
Fighting a substance abuse disorder is hard. Addicts do not become addicts overnight, so recovery involves a lot of “un-learning” of unhealthy habits.
Relapses and setbacks are unfortunately common—but they do not mean you’ve failed. If you have the desire to get clean and start living a better life, accept that it may take a few tries. In the end the results are invariably worth it.
Addiction Is For Life
One of the biggest fears an addict faces is the belief that they are stuck being an addict forever.
This addiction myth is widely circulated and can be disparaging—often causing people to feel hopeless about their substance abuse.
But remember that every person and every situation is different. It’s true that some people require a longer period to rehabilitate than others. Some may even continue various forms of treatment for the rest of their lives.
However, this does not mean you are guaranteed to struggle forever. The longer you stay clean, the more temptations and urges will diminish. The more you practice good habits, the easier they become, and the more they will feel like a regular—even enjoyable—part of your life.
Additionally, thinking about addiction in terms of “forever” isn’t helpful to your recovery. The phrase “one day at a time” is crucial.
Moving Past The Myths
As with most challenges in life, successfully fighting addiction requires learning. The more you know how to separate fact from fiction and myth from reality, the better your chances of recovery.
There are plenty of other myths about substance abuse. Addiction is an extraordinarily complex phenomenon and has been the subject of countless scientific and psychological studies.
Unfortunately, no cure exists for addiction. Every person takes their own personal path in their recovery. A process that works for one addict may not work for another.
If you struggle with alcohol or other substances, it does not mean you are a bad person. And you are certainly not alone. Millions of people currently grapple with addiction, and recovery is a challenging and ongoing process.
Moving forward, if you would like more information on the facts about substance abuse, or you are looking to kick-start your recovery, reach out to us at the number below. Our experts have the true facts about addiction and are ready to help you transition toward a better life.
Written by Christopher Dorsey
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