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Common 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 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: 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

Addiction to legally prescribed prescription medications, as well as illicit drugs, is a significant public health concern. Some people begin taking prescription pain medication, 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. 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: If Someone Wants to Stop Using, They Should Be Able to Do It on Their Own 

Drug addiction is described as a compulsive and uncontrollable urge to use drugs 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 their drug of choice.

Although most individuals choose when they initially try a new substance, repeated use can cause physical changes in the brain that no longer allows the individual control over their use. Cravings for drug use are persistent and intense. They greatly interfere with an individual’s self-control over drug use. 

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: You Can Tell if Someone Will Become an Addict

Many factors influence the risk of someone developing a substance use disorder. It is impossible to predict who will develop an addiction based on any single factor, explains the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Rather, many factors come together to influence the likelihood of developing a substance use disorder, with the more risk factors a person has in their life increasing the risk of addiction. 

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

The environment in which one lives and grows up also impacts the likelihood of substance misuse. If children are raised in an environment of drug use, peer pressure, sexual or physical abuse, and exposure to drugs at a young age, they are more likely to use drugs themselves. Additionally, the earlier someone begins using drugs in their life, the more likely it is that use will progress to addiction. 

Myth: If You Relapse After Addiction Treatment, You Will Never Be Free From Substance Abuse

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. 

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: Using Medications to Treat Addiction Substitutes One Addiction for Another

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

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. 

Myth: 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. 

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, and runny nose. 

Behavioral signs include strained relationships, secretive or suspicious behavior, an increase in risky behaviors, and neglecting responsibilities at home, school, or work. Unexplained changes in mood, personality, motivation, or attitude may be psychological warning signs of a substance use disorder. 

Myth: 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. 

Likewise, an individual’s history and severity of substance use informs 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 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. 

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

Substance use disorders can be effectively treated, but they do not have a cure, explains NIDA. Similar to other chronic diseases like asthma or heart disease, there is no cure, but the conditions can be successfully managed, so individuals can lead full, healthy, and productive lives. 

The key to effective addiction treatment is the ongoing management of the condition, also called recovery. In recovery, people have control over their lives rather than their addiction having control over them. 

People in recovery learn effective coping strategies to enable them to live happily and free from substance use. Recovery may include ongoing participation in counseling, community support groups, and healthy activities unrelated to substance use. 

Myth: 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. 

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. Research indicates that most individuals require an average of three months in a recovery program to effectively reduce or stop their drug use. Better treatment outcomes, such as avoiding substance misuse for the long term, are observed in individuals who remain in treatment longer. 

Myth: 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 which drug they are addicted to, the severity of their drug use, their mental and physical state, and amount of social support available. 

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, ethnicity, and cultural background must all be considered when constructing an effective treatment plan. 

Myth: 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. 

Fortunately, addiction treatment can still be effective even when individuals did 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.

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. 

Reach out for help today. A better future is around the corner.

Updated August 17, 2023
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