Recovering from drug abuse and addiction isn’t a matter of willpower. People do not choose to become addicted just like they don’t choose to have diabetes or cancer. Turns out, both genetics and environmental factors (family life, upbringing and peer pressure) play a part in the risk of developing addiction.
Here are 10 things everyone gets wrong about addiction.
Myth #1: Addiction is a choice and a matter of willpower
Brain imaging studies have shown that there are differences in the brain that are both a cause of and effect from drug addiction. Long before drugs enter the picture, there are actual physiological differences in people who become addicted compared to those who do not. And, after someone graduates to long-term drug abuse, there occur changes in the structure and function of the brain. This makes it difficult to control impulses, to feel pleasure from natural rewards like food or sex, and to focus on anything other than getting and using drugs (mental obsession).
Myth #2: You can’t get sober with just one attempt
Yes you can. It is possible to recover from drug addiction without relapsing. There are many people in recovery who only had one attempt at getting clean and sober and have been ever since that first attempt. While relapse can be a part of recovery, it is not necessarily the case for everyone.
Myth #3: People who are chronic relapsers are hopeless
On the flipside, drug addiction is a chronic disorder and sometimes, people do relapse. That isn’t to say that their situation is a hopeless one. Recovery is still possible, even after multiple relapses. It’s important to realize that recovery is a long-term process that oftentimes requires multiple attempts at treatment before complete and consistent sobriety is achieved.
Myth#4: There’s only one way to recover
There’s no “magic bullet” when it comes to drug treatment that will “cure” addiction. People use and abuse drugs for different reasons and therefore have different abuse-related problems. In actuality, patients can respond very differently to similar types of treatment, even when they’ve been abusing the same drug. As a result, drug addicts need an array of treatments and services that are tailored to address their specific needs.
Myth #5: People forced into treatment don’t have a chance at success
In fact, two of the main reasons people enter drug treatment are because they are court-ordered or because a loved one urged or demanded that they go. Studies have shown that people who enter drug treatment programs because they were forced, that is to say, faced a “high pressure” situation to address their addiction actually do somewhat better in treatment, regardless of the reason they sought treatment in the first place.
Myth #6: People usually get addicted to only one kind of drug
Polysubstance abuse is the term used for people who abuse more than one substance. Another term you might hear is ‘cross addiction,’ which, when complicated by drug interactions and side effects, makes polysubstance abuse riskier and more difficult to treat than other types of drug abuse.
Myth #7: Marijuana is a “gateway drug”
Research shows that the addiction rate among those who smoke marijuana is lower than that of those who drink alcohol. Furthermore, there is little scientific evidence that pot is a trigger for using “harder drugs.” Not to mention, most teens begin experimenting with substances like alcohol and inhalants.
Besides alcohol and inhalants, another more likely culprit is the class of prescription drugs – to include painkillers (oxycodone/Oxycontin, hydrocodone/Vicodin), amphetamines (study drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin) and anti-anxiety meds (Xanax, Valium). These are more easily accessible by teens and have strong addictive properties.
Myth #8: Drugs abuse “fries” your brain
Remember those anti-drug ads that showed an egg frying in a pan with a narrator saying: This is your brain on drugs?” This is a more a perfect example of melodrama than truthfulness. Yes, drug abuse certainly affects the brain but, recovery allows for the brain, mind, and body to heal. There are many people who are in recovery and who have become highly respected and successful people. This myth gives the wrong impression that recovering addicts and alcoholics are somehow “damaged” and that they can never lead normal lives.
Myth #9: You have to “hit rock bottom” in order to recover
Every person has a different “rock bottom.” For some people, it’s getting arrested or being homeless. A lot of times, though, it’s not that extreme. Losing an important personal relationship (such as through divorce), being confronted by a loved one or doing poorly at work or school might be the motivation someone needs.
This is an important myth to challenge because, if you wait until your loved one hits what you think is their rock bottom, it just might be too late. Many, many people die from the disease of addiction.
In fact, there is virtually no evidence that supports this idea of a “rock bottom” when it relates to their chances of success at recovery. It’s better to get help early rather than to hold out for the perfect moment of desperation.
Myth #10: If you’re motivated, you can successfully complete treatment in a couple of weeks
Research shows that a minimum of 90 days of treatment to have a beneficial effect. To be followed up with further supervision and support, such as an IOP and then sober living, which offers more freedom than inpatient treatment but with some structure for accountability. When it comes to recovery programs, the best chance of success is the length of treatment.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.