The concept of addiction is clouded with many misconceptions and assumptions, making it difficult for friends and family members to truly understand what an addicted loved one is going through. There are countless myths floating around about drug abuse, addiction, and alcoholism, but here are just a few of the most common myths and misconceptions.
Addiction Myth #1: People who are addicted just lack willpower.
It’s a common notion to assume that addicted individuals just lack the willpower to overcome their drug or alcohol abuse. However, addiction actually changes the brain of the user, severely impairing willpower and hampering self-control. Additionally, most medical associations including the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine classify addiction as a chronic disease, meaning it is a long-lasting condition that can be controlled but not cured (similar to diabetes or cancer).1 Just as individuals cannot overcome cancer with sheer willpower, it’s highly unlikely that addicted individuals can either. Addiction changes the way a person’s brain and body functions, inhibiting their ability to resist their substance of choice. When drugs are abused, pleasure chemicals are released in the brain, and over time, this release of chemicals modifies the parts of the brain that control pleasure, motivation, and memory. As a result, people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol with experience extreme cravings and frequently end up prioritizing their drug use over life-sustaining necessities like food, water, and shelter.
Addiction Myth #2: All addicts are the same.
The stereotype that addicted individuals are all low-income or unemployed, minorities, criminals, or of low socioeconomic status is simply not true. Recent reports published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) clearly show that addiction can affect anyone.2 Many people are also high-functioning addicts. These individuals are often able to achieve professional success, maintain a social network, and continue to hold up appearances at home, all while hiding their addiction and substance abuse from family, friends, and coworkers. This can’t last forever, but in many cases, loved ones don’t find out about the problem until it has completely spiraled out of control. High-functioning addicts may be able to function for a while, but in the end, the truth always makes itself known.
Addiction Myth #3: Prescription drugs are safe as long as they are taken as prescribed.
Many people believe prescription drugs are safer than illicit drugs just because they are recommended by a doctor. But according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, prescription drugs can be just as dangerous and addictive as illicit drugs.3 Unfortunately, some drugs, such as prescription opioids like Lorcet, Dolophine (methadose), and Duramorph/Roxanol (morphine), Percodan (oxycodone), and Tramadol can result in addiction even if a person takes them as prescribed by their doctor. In fact, prescription opioids are the most commonly abused prescription drugs. Cough and cold medicines, like Codeine, are the most frequently abused over-the-counter medications.3 Benzodiazepines like Valium (diazepam), Klonopin (clonazepam), Ativan (lorazepam), and Doral are also commonly abused in the U.S.although they are often overshadowed by opioids, are also commonly abused in the U.S. Your doctor should always consider your health conditions, current, and past drug use, as well as alternative medications before prescribing a potentially addictive drug to treat your symptoms. If you feel uncomfortable taking a medication that your doctor prescribed, there is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking a second opinion or asking your doctor about alternative options.
Addiction Myth #4: Every person that uses drugs is an addict.
Although drug abuse can certainly lead to addiction (and in many cases it does), not every person that uses drugs or alcohol is addicted. In some cases, a person may be physically dependent on a substance, but not addicted. This is because certain parts of the brain are associated with addiction while others are associated with physical dependence.4 For example, a hospital patient may be dependent on morphine after receiving it regularly for pain relief. Once they are taken off of the drug, they will experience withdrawal symptoms, but this situation does not involve any of the compulsive, uncontrollable use that is associated with addiction. Unlike physical dependence, addiction is characterized by uncontrollable cravings, an inability to control usage and continued use despite doing harm to oneself and those around them.5 Drug detox is required to break a person’s physical dependence on a substance and alcohol and drug rehab is needed to modify the negative behavioral and thought patterns associated with addiction.
Addiction Myth #5: Addiction is a sign of moral failure.
The stigma surrounding addiction implies that addicted people lack morals, but this assumption is completely unfounded. While the initial choice to use a drug may not have been a wise decision, people don’t set out to become addicted to drugs and alcohol and they certainly do not choose the consequences that come with it. No one knows what causes addiction, but there are several known risk factors that may increase a person’s likelihood to become addicted to drugs and alcohol. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse reports that genetics account for 50-75 percent of risk for addiction and there are also numerous other addiction risk factors to consider, such as:6
Exposure to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
Exposure to trauma
Substance abuse in the family or within peer social groups
Drug use that begins at an early age
Certain personality traits and brain characteristics
Addiction Myth #6: Only one type of addiction treatment works.
Just as every individual is different, addiction treatment should vary as well. While an inpatient alcohol and drug rehab program may have been a fantastic choice for your mom, your coworker may benefit more from an outpatient drug rehab program. Much of it will depend on personal circumstances, the person’s current and past drug use, and any previous treatment they have received in the past. Although the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that evidence-based long-term addiction treatment lasting at least 90 days is more likely to result in long-term sobriety, there are many aspects of treatment that should be adjusted to better fit the needs of each individual.7 For example, pet therapy may be extremely advantageous for one person, but it may not be as powerful for another individual. A high-quality rehab center, such as Nova Recovery Center, should incorporate a variety of evidence-based treatments into individualized treatment plans that are designed based on the needs of the client. These alcohol and drug rehab programs should be fluid and constantly updated as the client progresses through the program. This process will look different for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that one process works better than another. The most important thing is to find a drug and alcohol rehab program that works for you or your loved one. If you’re interested in learning more about our rehab center and the continuum of care we offer, please contact our admissions team today. References: https://www.centeronaddiction.org/what-addiction/addiction-disease https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus16.pdf#050 https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-over-counter-medications https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/neurobiology-drug-addiction/section-iii-action-heroin-morphine/10-addiction-vs-dependence http://www.naabt.org/addiction_physical-dependence.cfm https://www.centeronaddiction.org/addiction/addiction-risk-factors https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment
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