Studies of the brain show images that indicate there are differences in the brain that are both cause and effect of addiction. Even before drug use begins, there are neurobiological differences between people who become addicted and people who don’t. Once someone starts using drugs, the prolonged drug use will actually change the structure and function of the brain, making it difficult to control impulses, feel pleasure from natural rewards like sex and food, and focus on anything other than getting and using drugs. Here are 10 addiction myths you probably believe.
#1 Addiction Myths You Probably Believe
People choose to be addicted.
People don’t choose to become addicted just like they don’t choose to develop any other disease. Research shows that both genetics and environmental variables factor into whether someone develops and addiction. Recovery isn’t as simple as having the willpower to say ‘no’ once you are already in active addiction – there is no choice at that point.
#2 Addiction Myths You Probably Believe
Addicts are bad people who should be punished.
If a person develops an addiction, there’s a general consensus that they’re bad, weak-willed or immoral. You don’t see this same level of hostility towards people with other chronic illnesses such as diabetes or cancer. People with these diseases aren’t subject to legal consequences and attitudes like, “let them kill themselves, they’re a waste of space.” Yes, often times addicts resort to desperate and illegal acts in order to feed their addictions bur consider this: they are driven to do so by actual changes in their brains due to prolonged drug use. Sometimes, good people do bad things, and sick people need treatment, not punishment in order to recover.
#3 Addiction Myths You Probably Believe
People only get addicted to one kind of drug.
Another addiction myth is that people generally have one drug of choice (DOC). However, today we’re finding that it is more and more common for people to be using and addicted to more than one substance, this is called polysubstance abuse.
Some addicts use a combination of drugs in order to increase the intensity of the ‘high’ such as “speed-balling.” Others use one drug then another in order to counteract any unwanted feelings, such as the experience of “coming down.” Other addicts will use whatever drug is available.
#4 Addiction Myths You Probably Believe
People who get addicted to prescription drugs are not addicts like the people who get addicted to illegal drugs.
Medications like oxycodone, Vicodin, Adderall, and Xanax all can be prescribed by a doctor, and, when taken as prescribed, are relatively safe. This has led to a widespread delusion prescription drugs are safer than so-called street drugs. First of all, prescription drug abuse has reached epidemic proportions in recent times and, secondly, when you take a prescription drug in a greater dose, more often than prescribed, or recreationally (taking a drug that is meant for treating a medical problem that you don’t actually have), it affects the same areas of the brain as illegal drugs and carries the same risk for addiction.
#5 Addiction Myths You Probably Believe
Treatment should put addicts in their place.
Despite the fact that physicians and other specialists agree that addiction is a chronic disease just like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, addicts are still treated as inferior. A lot of treatment centers still employ a confrontational and shame-based approach in order to “motivate” addicts. However, research shows that this is counterproductive: shame is a strong indication of relapse and besides, it only serves to continue the stigma that addiction means you’re a bad person which will keep people from getting help.
#6 Addiction Myths You Probably Believe
Court-ordered treatment doesn’t work.
Many people believe that treatment is only effective if the addict chooses to get help. While this is often the best case scenario for recovery from an addiction, it’s not necessarily true. Many people still find success at sobriety even if they initially went to treatment because they were court-ordered or threatened by family members. This is because, once in treatment, the addict has a sort of revelation, or moment of clarity that they do in fact have a problem. If the addict becomes open to the idea that they need help, they can certainly benefit from treatment and go on to live a healthy, sober life.
#7 Addiction Myths You Probably Believe
A 12 Step approach is the only way to recovery.
There are several different approaches to getting and staying clean and sober. Although 12 Step fellowship members have shown to have somewhat high success rates, this isn’t the only way to achieve sobriety. Some people like Smart Recovery, others find support from attending church, and so on.
#8 Addiction Myths You Probably Believe
You have to hit rock bottom first
This is certainly a dangerous attitude to have. What if, while waiting for your loved one to hit rock bottom, they actually succumb completely to the disease of addiction (this is a nice way of saying that you watch them continue to hurt themselves until they eventually die)? Then it’s too late.
Consider this: everyone’s “bottom” looks different. It might not be as extreme as becoming homeless or resorting to prostituting oneself. Sometimes, losing a relationship or a job, or being confronted by a loved one is enough of a reason for an addict to want to seek help.
There is little to no evidence that the greater the bottom means a better chance at success at recovering. Simply put: it’s better to get help early than to hold out for what you consider to be the perfect desperate moment.
#9 Addiction Myths You Probably Believe
Marijuana is a ‘gateway drug.’
This one drives me crazy! Never mind that most teens actually start with alcohol before smoking weed and then possibly using ‘harder stuff,’ the addiction rate for marijuana is actually lower than that of alcohol, and there is little scientific evidence that pot is a trigger for harder drugs.
After alcohol, the real possible threat of a “gateway drug” is more likely to be prescription painkillers, like OxyContin and Vicodin, and stimulants, such as Adderall. These drugs have strong addictive properties and are more accessible to teens – often they can be found in their parents’ medicine cabinet. Another category of highly addictive and easily accessible drug is that of inhalants, such as computer duster.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse did a study that found that 8% of 12th graders abused Vicodin and 5.1% abused OxyContin. Inhalant use peaks as early as 8th grade age at around 17%, which is far earlier than all other drugs.
#10 Addiction Myths You Probably Believe
Drugs cause irreversible brain damage.
Remember those anti-drug commercials that showed the image of an egg frying on the stove and said “this is your brain on drugs?” This was a gross oversimplification – saying that drug use causes permanent and severe brain damage. Yes, certain drugs are neurotoxic, meaning that they cause nerve damage, some examples being methamphetamine (crystal meth), MDMA, cocaine and inhalants. However, by no means do these produce a “damaged” person. This addiction myth implies that recovered addicts are “damaged goods” which can cause discrimination by employers, health care providers and the legal system.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.