Most of us have the ability to make personal and professional choices with little consequence.
However, if you’re recovering from addiction, there are often many stigmas to overcome in life, including the pressure of dealing with society’s perceptions.
In order to understand substance abuse, it’s natural for some people to want easy answers to explain the disease. The truth is, there are many myths about addiction that make it more difficult for others to empathize with its challenges.
Myths About Addiction
Myth #1: Addiction Indicates a Lack of Morals
Understanding the scientific aspects of addiction helps debunk this myth, with a caveat. Initially, someone has to make a choice to use drugs or alcohol, but the conscious intent isn’t to become an addict. In some states, choosing to use a drug such as marijuana or alcohol doesn’t even violate a morality code of lawlessness.
Some people can frequently use a substance without suffering addiction. But for others, research indicates their brains experience predicable changes with each use, which only creates a stronger dependence on the drug.
Other risk factors such as trauma, family behavior, environmental triggers, and psychological characteristics such as impulsivity can also contribute to a powerful reliance on a substance.
Myth #2: Addicts Don’t Have Enough Willpower, Otherwise They Would Stop
When someone is addicted to a powerful chemical substance, his or her body starts to become reliant on it in order to feel “normal.” Even though the addictive behavior may have devastating consequences in daily life, the physical changes that occur in the brain with repeated substance use impair an individual’s behavior control and decision-making ability.
These changes only get worse during the period of addiction and, consequently, impact the ability to exercise conscious choice, or willpower.
The American Psychological Association purports that willpower is more complicated than we think. Even on our best days, we all face circumstances that deplete willpower, whether it’s resisting the urge to talk back to a berating boss or curbing the impulse to make hand gestures to a rude driver.
Some studies indicate that when your willpower is drained, your brain may actually function differently and suffer a drop in glucose, which is necessary to keep brain cells at optimum performance. If someone’s brain is already challenged by substance abuse, willpower is also compromised.
Proper treatment and detoxification help many people regain control over the physical depletion caused by drug or alcohol use. Once they have the opportunity for clarity during and after recovery, they can incorporate stronger belief systems that help boost willpower and self-control.
Myth #3: I Know an Addict When I See One
Unfortunately, addiction can happen to anyone, regardless of age, culture, or socio-economic status. So the stereotypes associated with the disease extend damaging misinformation on a number of levels:
- “Her father was an alcoholic, so she is, too:” The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that only 40-to-60 percent of a person’s genetics may contribute to addiction vulnerability, often when combined with other factors such as environment, medical condition, and mental health.
- “Well, he’s poor, a minority, and a criminal:” The Centers for Disease Control report statistics of non-Hispanic white individuals using heroin that are “nearly double that of all other groups combined.” These same statistics show an alarming rate of increased use by women, and by people making upwards of $49,999 annually.
- “She can still go to work, so she’s not addicted:” Denial is a persuasive buddy to individuals plagued by addiction and the people who love them. Someone with substance abuse issues can still be high-functioning. The stereotype in this scenario is simply that if someone’s day-to-day experiences haven’t drastically changed to cause unemployment and loss of home, there’s not a substance problem and no need for treatment.
- “Anyone who uses drugs is an addict:” As mentioned previously, there are numerous factors that contribute to addiction, not just the use of drugs or alcohol.
- “Anyone who uses prescription drugs isn’t an addict:” Just because a doctor called your neighborhood pharmacy and authorized use doesn’t make a substance any less potent. Many medications such as sleep aids, opioids for pain, and ADHD treatments are notoriously addictive, and harmful when not taken as prescribed.
Myth #4: Once Addicted, Always Addicted
The complexity of addiction means the journey of recovery has many stops and starts. A relapse doesn’t indicate a person is a failure, or will always have substance abuse issues.
Once someone recognizes the problem, specialized treatment plans that cater to individual needs help create a path to a healthy, productive life. These plans may be altered many times during the process to ensure the best results.
It’s important that emotions such as apathy, hopelessness, guilt, anxiety, and shame are dealt with in a constructive manner. A person’s recovery process may take months or even years, but life will change for the better.
Myth #5: Rehab Doesn’t Work
Addiction is treatable. Treatment centers are designed to help someone with substance abuse issues move toward whole body wellness. As a first step, physical, mental, and emotional challenges are lessened in a safe environment.
The second step is to develop a form of treatment that focuses on the individual, not simply the addiction. In this way, he or she can regain control, embrace new techniques for wellness, and design a life of value.
Another myth of “what doesn’t work” in rehabilitation is the support of family and friends. Many treatment plans include positive opportunities to address relationship dynamics and create a strong network.