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11 Myths & Misconceptions About Addiction

There are many myths and misconceptions related to addiction, such as the belief that addiction is a choice or that there is a cure for addiction.

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Drug addiction is a complicated medical and psychiatric condition that changes the way people feel and behave. Substance abuse alters brain function, making quitting challenging and often out of an individual’s control. Extensive research on the range of substance use disorders has been conducted, and more information about substance use disorders and how to treat them is discovered every year. 

Here are some of the most common myths and misconceptions about addiction:

Myth #1: Addiction Only Affects Uneducated People

Addiction does not discriminate. People of all ages, ethnicities, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds are susceptible to substance use disorders.

Millions of Americans across the country and from all areas of society are currently struggling with addiction. It can happen to anyone, and there is no single reason why someone develops a substance use disorder. [1]

Addiction to legally prescribed prescription medications, as well as illicit drugs, is a significant public health concern. Some people begin taking prescription opioids, as prescribed by their doctor, and then become addicted to it. Other people begin using substances, both legal and illegal, to help them cope with stress or trauma. 

Reducing stigma around addiction and addiction treatment will help encourage individuals to seek the care they need.

Reducing stigma around addiction and addiction treatment will help encourage individuals to seek the care they need. Long-term use of addictive substances causes changes in the brain that can make quitting drug use highly challenging. Supportive healthcare providers, family members, and friends can help people struggling with addiction get on the path to recovery.

Myth #2: If Someone Wants to Stop Using, They Should Be Able to Do It on Their Own 

Drug and alcohol addiction is described as a compulsive and uncontrollable urge to use substances despite suffering negative consequences. Someone with an addiction may experience personal, relationship, health, and financial hardships as a result of their drug use, but they still cannot stop using substances.[2]

Researchers say repeated drug use can affect parts of the brain responsible for judgment, decision-making, learning, and memory. Behaviors associated with drug use become incredibly difficult to shift, as they’re driven by reflexes instead of conscious thought.[11]

Once addicted, treatment provided by trained addiction professionals is usually necessary to achieve recovery. A combination of medical doctors and mental health professionals can provide evidence-based treatment to support an individual on their journey to recovery.

Myth #3: You Can Tell if Someone Will Develop an Addiction

Experts estimate that approximately half of a person’s risk for addiction comes from their genes and family history of substance abuse.[2]

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health identified genes commonly found in people with addiction disorders—regardless of the substance being abused. One of these genes controls dopamine signaling in the brain, which could make some types of drugs more rewarding than they’d be in people without this gene.[12]

Genes aren’t destiny, and some people can have genetic risk factors that never transform into addiction. The environment in which one lives and grows up also impacts the likelihood of substance misuse. Some environmental risk factors include the following:[2]

  •       Exposure to drugs at a young age
  •       Parental substance misuse
  •       Peer pressure
  •       Sexual, physical, or emotional abuse
  •       Neglect

Additionally, the earlier someone begins using drugs in their life, the more likely it is that use will progress to addiction. [2]

Myth #4: If You Relapse After Addiction Treatment, You Have Failed

Relapsing after addiction treatment is not a sign of failure or ineffective treatment. Addiction is a chronic disease that requires ongoing treatment that must be regularly updated to meet changing needs. 

Relapse is a piece of the recovery process for many people. Like other chronic illnesses, substance use disorders have a relapse rate of 40% to 60%. 

In comparison, hypertension relapses at a rate of 50% to 70%, as does asthma. Rather than being a sign of failure, relapse to any of these chronic diseases is an indication that the treatment plan must be adjusted. [3]

Like other chronic illnesses, substance use disorders have a relapse rate of 40% to 60%. 

Each time a relapse occurs, more information is gained regarding which treatment strategies were effective and which were not. Treatment plans can then be updated with this new knowledge and changed appropriately. Each new treatment plan is a step toward sobriety.

Myth #5: Using Medications to Treat Addiction Substitutes One Addiction for Another

Several medications have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of certain substance use disorders, including opioid use disorders and alcohol use disorders. These include:

  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine (Suboxone)
  • Naltrexone
  • Acamprosate
  • Disulfiram

Medication-assisted treatment helps individuals achieve and maintain full recovery. Medications are used in combination with behavioral therapy and other forms of counseling to promote recovery, increase participation in treatment, and reduce the risk of relapse. [4]

Medications used to treat substance use disorders are not replacing one addictive substance with another. The medications used can reduce withdrawal symptoms and psychological cravings while helping the body and brain return to normal. 

The medications do not produce any sense of euphoric high and are thus not addictive. They are considered safe to take for months or years, if needed.

Medications used to treat substance use disorders are not replacing one addictive substance with another. The medications used can reduce withdrawal symptoms and psychological cravings while helping the body and brain return to normal.

Myth #6: It’s Easy to Tell if Someone You Know Has an Addiction

People with substance use disorders often go to great lengths to hide their drug use and the severity of the problem. It is not always easy to tell if someone you know is struggling with an addiction. 

Even someone you live with or have a close relationship with may be able to cover up their addiction for a long time. Knowing warning signs of substance use can better help you identify someone with a substance use disorder. [5]

Physical, behavioral, and psychological symptoms can indicate substance abuse. Common physical signs of addiction include:

  • Weight loss or gain
  • Poor hygiene
  • Changes in sleep and eating habits
  • Impaired coordination
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Track marks or signs of injection
  • Nasal damage or signs of snorting

Behavioral signs include:

  • Strained relationships
  • Secretive or suspicious behavior
  • Risky behaviors
  • Neglecting at home, school, or work
  • Unexplained changes in mood, personality, motivation, or attitude 

Myth #7: People Must Hit Rock Bottom Before They Recover 

The best time to begin addiction treatment is as soon as it is apparent that intervention is needed. The sooner individuals with a substance use disorder access treatment, the sooner they can recover and avoid more serious consequences. Substance use disorders become harder to treat the longer they persist. [6]

Likewise, an individual’s history and severity of substance use inform what type of addiction treatment is necessary. The longer and more severely someone has been misusing drugs, the more intense treatment services must be. Treatment may take longer and require more comprehensive services, such as health, employment, and housing services. 

The sooner treatment is accessed, the sooner the individual can return to a full productive life and minimize the negative impacts of addiction. There is no need to hit “rock bottom” before beginning the recovery journey.

The sooner treatment is accessed, the sooner the individual can return to a full productive life and minimize the negative impacts of addiction. There is no need to hit “rock bottom” before beginning the recovery journey.

Myth #8: Once Treatment Is Completed, You Are Done With Recovery

Substance use disorders can be effectively treated, but they are chronic conditions that can require long-term care.

At the end of a structured addiction treatment program, teams build an aftercare plan that might include some or all of the following elements:

  • Support group meetings
  • Recovery or sober living homes
  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy

Some people need all of these elements to build a healthy life in recovery. Others need just one or two. And still others need programs that can expand during a crisis and retract when things are going well.

Experts say a person’s treatment plan must be continually modified to meet changing needs. Someone may need varying combinations of care during the recovery process.[7] Just as someone with diabetes will always need to monitor the condition and adjust, so should someone with a history of addiction.

Myth #9: Detox Is Sufficient Addiction Treatment

Detox, often assisted with the use of medication, is only the first step in addiction treatment. It is an essential piece of addiction treatment, but it is not the only one. It is considered the first stage of substance abuse treatment. [7]

The National Institute on Drug Abuse points out that people typically need at least three months in treatment to significantly reduce or quit drug use altogether. Programs often use behavioral therapy, such as individual or family counseling, to help people build the skills they need to resist drug use and replace their drug-using activities with healthier versions.[7]

Many programs incorporate self-help groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. These programs can offer people in recovery the opportunity to meet with and learn from their drug-using peers.[7] Building new social connections is an important part of the recovery process for anyone with a longstanding addiction issue.

Alone, detox does little to promote long-term recovery. Without participating in treatment programs that include behavioral therapy following detox, individuals never learn new skills to manage their addiction, and relapse is likely.

Treatment incentives and strategies can begin during the detoxification stage and continue throughout the treatment and recovery process. Better treatment outcomes, such as avoiding substance misuse for the long term, are observed in individuals who remain in treatment longer.

Myth #10: Addiction Treatment Is the Same for Everyone 

Addiction treatment can work for anyone, but it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. One of the principles of effective treatment, as outlined by NIDA, is that no single treatment works for everyone. 

For treatment to be effective, it must address the individual’s needs, including: [7],[8]

  • Which drug they are addicted to
  • The severity of their drug use
  • Their mental and physical health
  • The amount of social support they have
  • Previous withdrawal and treatment experiences

Furthermore, effective addiction treatment addresses more than just the addiction. Treatment must cover all medical, psychological, familial, social, employment, and legal problems the individual may be facing. The individual’s age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and cultural background must all be considered when constructing an effective treatment plan. [8]

Myth #11: Treatment Must Be Voluntary to Be Effective

Addiction treatment experts have found that treatment does not need to be voluntary to be effective. Ideally, individuals entering addiction treatment recognize they have a substance use problem and are willingly seeking treatment services. However, not all people who enter treatment programs do so voluntarily. [7]

Fortunately, addiction treatment can still be effective even when individuals do not initiate the process on their own. NIDA has found that individuals who were encouraged or forced to enter addiction treatment by family, work, or the criminal justice system still experience successful treatment outcomes. [7]

When involuntarily brought to treatment, individuals are still likely to enter treatment and remain in their programs. Through the treatment and recovery process, they then gain the awareness and skills to voluntarily maintain sobriety once their treatment program ends.

The Truth About Addiction & Recovery

The truth is that recovery from addiction is always possible. With individualized, comprehensive addiction treatment, you can leave substance abuse in your past and begin to repair the damage it has caused in your life. 

Contact us at Boca Recovery Center today. A better future is around the corner.

Updated February 13, 2024
Resources
  1. Recovery Is For Everyone: Understanding Treatment of Substance Use Disorders. (September 2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. Understanding Drug Use and Addiction DrugFacts. (June 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  3. Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction – Treatment and Recovery. (July 2020). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  4. Medications for Substance Use Disorders. (April 2023). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  5. Warning Signs of Substance and Alcohol Use Disorder. Indian Health Service.
  6. Myths About Substance Use Disorders. Indian Health Service.
  7. Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition). (January 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  8. Evidence-Based Models of Care for the Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder in Primary Health Care Settings: Protocol for Systematic Review. (November 2019). Systematic Reviews.
  9. Identifying “Hitting Bottom” among Individuals with Alcohol Problems: Development and Evaluation of the Noteworthy Aspects of Drinking Important to Recovery (NADIR). (August 2018). Substance Abuse & Misuse.
  10. The Key to Individualized Addiction Treatment Is Comprehensive Assessment and Monitoring of Symptoms and Behavioral Change. (December 2015). Behavioral Sciences.
  11. Drug Use Changes the Brain Over Time. Genetic Science Learning Center.
  12. New NIH Study Reveals Shared Genetic Markers Underlying Substance Use Disorders. (March 2023). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
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