Addiction has received a lot more attention from the media and from policymakers in recent years because of the opioid crisis in the US. Despite this, many myths and misconceptions about addiction and recovery persist. These myths are harmful in a number of ways. Some perpetuate the stigma of addiction and make people reluctant to seek help. Others allow people with substance use disorders and their loved ones to pretend there is no problem. Others allow people to rationalize not seeking help even when they admit to having a problem. The following are some persistent myths about substance use and recovery.
“Addiction is a choice.”
Anyone who has seen addiction up close knows that no one chooses addiction. Living with addiction is miserable for both the person with the substance use disorder and that person’s family. Many realize their substance use is causing harm but they feel powerless to stop. At best, you might say that someone chooses to use drugs or alcohol, but even that isn’t universally true. Many addictions begin with prescription medications or as adolescent substance use, often imitating a parent’s substance use.
“Addiction signals a lack of willpower.”
It’s a common misconception that avoiding or escaping addiction is mainly a matter of willpower. A 2018 poll by AP-NORC found that while a slight majority of Americans now see addiction as a disease, about 44 percent still see it as a lack of discipline or willpower. In reality, addiction has little to do with willpower and relying on willpower to stay sober won’t get you very far. Almost everyone who struggles with addiction has risk factors such as genetic predisposition, childhood trauma, or a co-occurring mental health issue. Recovering from addiction requires a comprehensive plan that includes therapy, healthy lifestyle changes, and positive social connection.
“Drugs are not addictive when taken as prescribed.”
Many people believe that prescription drugs are safe or that they’re only dangerous when misused. It’s true prescription drugs can be dangerous when misused but they can also be dangerous when used as directed. Many people who have developed opioid use disorder started out by taking opioid medication as directed. Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, has recently declared bankruptcy after settling thousands of lawsuits with state and local governments over its role in creating the opioid epidemic through misleading marketing practices. In the 1990s, Purdue spent a lot of money convincing doctors that they were under-treating pain and that opioids weren’t as addictive as once believed. In reality, many medications have the potential for abuse and should be used with caution.
“If your life is not a disaster, you don’t have a substance use disorder.”
Many people have a stereotypical image of someone with a substance use disorder as someone who is unemployed or homeless, who spends all day everyday drinking and using drugs, and whose life is generally a wreck. In reality, many people with substance use disorders can keep up appearances for a while. They may have nice homes, families, good jobs, and so on. Eventually, though, addiction will catch up with you, so it’s better to fight addiction on your own terms.
“You can’t recover from addiction until you hit rock bottom.”
One persistent and dangerous myth about addiction is that you can’t recover until you hit rock bottom. The thinking goes that once someone’s life can’t possibly get any worse, she’ll see the light and ask for help. The biggest problem with this myth is that more than 70,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2017. Those people either never reached rock bottom or reaching rock bottom didn’t sufficiently motivate them to quit for good. What’s more, almost everyone who enters treatment is ambivalent at first, but something convinced them that treatment was worth a try. They typically find their own motivation after they take the first step.
“You don’t have a substance use problem unless you use it every day.”
Many people believe they have to use drugs or alcohol every day to be addicted. In reality, a substance use disorder is more about your relationship to a substance than the need to use it constantly. For example, if you can’t cope with stress or painful emotions without the help of drugs or alcohol, you probably have a problem. If you can’t stop drinking once you start, even if you don’t drink every day, then you have a problem. Immoderate substance use can lead to accidents and other problems. Perhaps more importantly, addiction is progressive, so occasional binges today may become daily binges in the future. Getting help earlier is better.
“There is only one right way to recover from addiction.”
A lot of people have their own pet theories about addiction, and some of those people even have some personal experience of the matter. However, a lot of people fall into the trap of thinking that whatever worked for them will work for everyone. One person might say that AA is the only way to quit drinking. Another person might say once you do a medical detox to get through withdrawal, you can do the rest on your own. The reality is that everyone has different needs in recovery. Many people need specialized treatment for co-occurring mental health issues or medical issues resulting from substance use. Others may do well in a 12-step program or an intensive outpatient program. It helps to have expert guidance and social support while finding your own path to recovery.
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: 800.910.9299.