For a long time addiction was severely misunderstood, and, to a certain extent even now, it is still widely misunderstood. As more and more science and research is done about what addiction is, and how it affects the individual using and their family; the myths about it stay cemented in many people’s minds. Many of the myths are based on stigma, judgment, ignorance, and just plain misunderstanding. Whatever their basis we are here to try and shine some MORE light on the truth about addiction. This is drug myths debunked: addiction.
Myth #1: Addiction is a willpower problem or a choice
This is a very old belief and if you have it you need to toss it because it is false. This myth probably started with wanting to blame addicts for using drugs to excess (severe excess). This myth continues to be reinforced by the observation that most treatments for addiction are behavioral therapies which many people perceive to build “self-control”. But the truth is addiction occurs in an area of the brain called the mesolimbic dopamine system that is not under the addict’s conscious control. Brain imaging studies have shown the differences in the brain that are both a cause and effect of addiction. Long before drugs even enter the picture there are neurobiological differences in people who become addicted compared with those people who do not. Once a person starts using drugs, the prolonged drug use changes the structure and function of the brain which makes it hard to control impulses, feel pleasure from natural rewards like setting goals and to focus on anything other than getting and using drugs. This is involuntary, not a choice.
Myth #2: Addiction only happens to people who are weak, uneducated, have no morals; weren’t raised right and they can’t be productive members of society. In other words, addicts “look” a certain way.
The truth is addiction does not discriminate in any way, shape or form. Addiction is in the lives of people of all ages, ethnicities, cultures, religions, communities, and economic statuses. Addiction is not a result of low morals. Addicts behave in ways that violate their own personal beliefs, values and morals. Addiction is truly an equal opportunity disease. It is very common for people to believe that all addicts are unemployed, involved in criminal behavior, homeless and have family issues etc. While this is sometimes true there are many addicts that continue to function in society and have good jobs, provide for their families, are involved in their communities, and don’t appear to be an addict in the “stigmatized” sense of the word.
Myth #3: Addicts are bad people who deserve to be punished
If a person develops an addiction, there usually is the widespread idea that they are bad, weak-willed and immoral. The hostility toward addicts takes a form that is unknown among other illnesses. This hostility causes harsh legal sanctions and judgments that sound a lot like “let them kill themselves, they brought it upon themselves.” It is true that many addicts do unsightly things but those things are done because they are driving by a brain that is functioning properly. Addicts are sick people who need treatment not punishment. If you don’t believe this myth is false, think about someone you care about who might be dealing with an addiction. Are they a bad person normally? Do they deserve punishment or do they need help?
Myth #4: Someone with an addiction has to want treatment or hit rock bottom in order to get sober
Just read what Dr. Kathleen Brady has to say about this myth: “There are two main misconceptions that really drive me crazy when it comes to addictions,” says Dr. Kathleen Brady, a professor at the Medical University of South Carolina. “One of them is this whole idea that an individual needs to reach rock bottom before they can get any help. That is absolutely wrong. There is no evidence that that’s true. In fact, quite the contrary. The earlier in the addiction process that you can intervene and get someone help, the more they have to live for. The more they have to get better for.”
Someone with an addiction doesn’t have to be ready to get help or hit some terrible emotional, spiritual, financial, familial bottom to get help. If that was the case some addicts may never get the help they need especially the ones who are functioning or don’t want to be sober right now. In fact, I am one of these cases. I was involuntarily committed in NC; which means I really didn’t want help and I hadn’t hit rock bottom in my own eyes. But that commitment saved my life and I know that now. Here I am today sober!
Myth #5: Addiction lets addicts off the hook and they get to be excused from negative behavior
This just isn’t true. What you can’t blame addicts for is for having addiction. Addicts still need to be held accountable for their actions. They are not responsible for having an addiction (no addict woke up one day and said today is the day I want to have the disease of addiction). But they are responsible for their recovery and their choices.
It can be really easy to judge and criticize what we don’t understand. You don’t have to walk a mile in addicts’ shoes to understand addiction and addictive behaviors. If someone you know is struggling with an addiction, consider learning more about addiction and extend a helping hand instead of hurtful words. The more knowledge we all acquire the more we can help to prevent, eradicate, and support addicts instead of stigmatizing or judging them. When we all can see what addiction truly is as a disease we can all be more apt to help!
If you or someone you love is in need of drug addiction treatment, please give us a call at 800-951-6135.