As the opioid crisis in the United States continues to grow, it also continues to receive much-deserved media attention. States are suing drug makers for damages caused by the opioids they produce, the federal government is trying to expand treatment options, and more families are struggling with the consequences of opioid addiction. As the opioid crisis spreads and affects more people, misconceptions also spread. These can be harmful because they may contribute to the stigma of addiction, allow more people to become addicted, or prevent people from getting help. The following are some common myths about opioids and opioid addiction:

“If it’s prescribed by a doctor, it must be safe.”

This myth is at the heart of the opioid crisis, and even as the role of prescription opioids becomes more widely known, people are reluctant to believe their doctor would prescribe something that’s potentially harmful. In fact, prescriptions played a major role in creating the opioid crisis. In the 1990s, Purdue Pharma and other drug companies launched an aggressive marketing campaign in the form of educational programs for doctors. Largely on the basis of a note to the editor published in a medical journal (not a proper study), they claimed that the addiction risk from opioid prescriptions was actually very low; out of nearly 12,000 patients given narcotics during a hospital stay, only four patients with no addiction history developed an opioid addiction. 

Drug companies claimed that not only were opioids not as addictive as once thought, but doctors were actually doing their patients a disservice by not adequately treating their pain. Opioid manufacturers spent a lot of money promoting this view, and doctors were largely convinced. The effort resulted in much higher rates of opioid prescriptions, which peaked in 2012. Doctors and lawmakers had realized what was happening and made concerted efforts to reduce opioid availability. The CDC released stricter prescribing guidelines, which most doctors now comply with. Unfortunately, overprescribing still happens. As of 2017, there were still counties where the rate of opioid prescription was seven times the national average. While some of these are no doubt “pill mills,” there are still likely doctors across the country who are too liberal with their opioid prescriptions. If you’re a patient, it pays to be informed of the risks involved with any medication.

“Everyone who takes opioids becomes addicted.”

At the other end of the spectrum, it’s important to realize that most people who use opioid painkillers as directed following a medical procedure or in some other limited way don’t become addicted. With all the media coverage, it’s easy to get the idea that if you take an opioid for even a short time, you will become addicted. This may actually lead to underprescription and inadequate treatment of pain. It also contributes to the myth that addiction is a property inherent in a substance itself. While some substances do cause physical dependence more quickly than others, addiction typically happens when a number of factors come together. It’s certainly problematic to prescribe teens a month’s worth of Vicodin for a wisdom tooth extraction, for example, but if someone develops an opioid addiction after three to five days of use, there are almost certainly other factors in play. For example, you might have a genetic predisposition to addiction or you might have an undiagnosed mental health issue, such as an anxiety disorder. Addiction is never as simple as, “take a pill, become addicted.”

“Opioid addiction mostly affects men.”

Historically, men have used illicit drugs, including opioids, at a much higher rate than women, and as recently as 2017, men die of overdose about twice as much. However, women also have significant risk factors for opioid addiction. For one, women tend to undergo more medical procedures, and typically experience more pain. They are therefore prescribed more opioids. Unfortunately, those opioids may not be as effective for women. Half of women with opioid addictions say their addiction started with prescription painkillers, compared to about a third of men. Women also tend to escalate their opioid use more quickly than men, meaning there’s a greater chance that a painkiller problem will turn into a heroin problem.

“Opioid addiction is mainly a matter of willpower.”

A 2018 poll found that although a majority of Americans now believe addiction is a disease that needs treatment, a large minority of about 44 percent believe addiction stems from a lack of discipline or willpower. In reality, willpower is not an effective recovery plan. As noted above, addiction is complex and is typically the result of many factors converging. For example, studies show that about half of your addiction risk is genetic, so if a parent or sibling has a substance use disorder, you have a greater risk. Mental health issues are also common, affecting at least half of people with substance use disorders. Many people who develop addictions have a history of abuse, neglect, or trauma. All of these issues have to be addressed in order to sustain recovery long-term. It’s also important to find a sense of connection with others. Having a sober support community is a major key to long-term sobriety. Finally, living a healthier lifestyle by eating healthy, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of sleep can help support recovery. While willpower can play a supporting role in these changes, it’s not the main factor and few people can recover from addiction alone.

If you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, Hired Power and our team of dynamic, experienced recovery professionals are here to guide you every step of the way. We offer many services, including helping you choose the best treatment program and transitional services, including interventions, sober monitoring, and personal recovery assistants. Call us today for information on our recovery services: 714-559-3919.

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