Understanding addiction is the first step toward healing. But unfortunately, addiction myths abound. Substance use disorders are associated with discrimination and social disapproval, more so than any other medical condition. The stigma and shame of addiction take hundreds of lives every day.
We should all be concerned about the harm caused by these myths. The next time you hear someone repeat one of these, we hope you’ll respond with the facts.
MYTH: Addiction is not treatable.
REALITY: Many people can and do recover from addiction.
Once treatment begins, someone with a substance use disorder can move on to manage the disease, just as they would any other chronic illness. With the right treatment, recovery is possible for everyone.
MYTH: Addiction could never happen to me.
REALITY: Addiction can affect anyone.
Addiction does not discriminate. Drug or alcohol addiction has nothing to do with race, gender or education level. It can happen to anyone, no matter their upbringing, personality type, or grade point average. There are genetic, social, and psychological risk factors that put some people at greater risk, but has nothing to do with a person’s character.
MYTH: Medication-assisted treatment replaces one addiction with another.
REALITY: Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) has been proven to save lives and substantially improve recovery rates.
For people in treatment for substance use disorders, medications ease withdrawal symptoms and prevent overdoses. Medication doesn’t create a high or cause impairment. It helps the person manage their addiction and stay in recovery.
MYTH: Using drugs or alcohol is a choice, so if someone gets addicted, it’s their fault.
REALITY: Addiction is a consequence of many contributing factors, including genetics, upbringing, trauma and other influences.
Many people think that the person could stop using drugs if they really wanted to. But addiction doesn’t work that way. Although it is a choice to use a drug for the first time, there's no rule about how soon someone becomes addicted. The first time a person takes a drug, they might like how it makes them feel, and they believe they can control how much and how often they take the drug. But drugs can take away their control. Drugs can change how the brain works, and those changes can last for a long time.
No one would choose to get addiction, any more than they'd choose to get cancer. People with addiction are usually living pretty miserable lives and wouldn't choose to live that way if given the chance.
MYTH: If someone has a stable job and family life, they can’t be suffering from addiction.
REALITY: Anyone can be vulnerable to addiction.
Many people live in denial. They may be successful in their professional lives, or come from a “good” home. Many people hide the severity of their illness or don’t get help because of stigma and shame. If drinking or using drugs is causing any kind of conflict or problem in your personal or professional life, it’s time to get help.
MYTH: People have to hit “rock bottom” before they can get well.
REALITY: This simply isn’t true, and it’s a dangerous myth.
The longer you wait, the sicker you get, and this can have deadly consequences. Also, people who get help before their illness is so severe have more resources to draw upon, such as supportive family or a job, to help them successfully recover. The sooner you get help, the better.
MYTH: Going to treatment will cure the addiction.
REALITY: Addiction is a chronic disease, which means it's a long-lasting condition that can be controlled but not cured.
Treatment can be the first step toward wellness, but it’s just the beginning. Many people need more than one treatment program to get on a stable path to wellness. Staying well requires a lifelong commitment to managing the disease.
MYTH: If someone relapses, they’re a lost cause.
REALITY: Addiction is a chronic illness very similar to type II diabetes or hypertension and requires lifelong management. Relapse is no more likely with addiction than it is for these other chronic illnesses.
Getting well involves changing deeply embedded behaviors. This takes time and effort and sometimes results in setbacks. This doesn’t mean previous treatments failed. A recurrence may be a sign that the treatment approach or other supports need to change, or that other treatment methods are needed.
Most people with addiction who suffer a recurrence will return to recovery.
MYTH: People with addiction are bad and need to be punished.
REALITY: Sick people need treatment, not punishment, to get well.
Sometimes, after prolonged substance use, people with addiction do bad things. This is due to profound changes in the brain that compel them to lie, cheat, steal or worse in order to keep using. While this behavior can’t be condoned, it’s important to understand they do it because they are deeply sick and need help.
MYTH: Addiction is a behavioral problem, not a disease.
REALITY: The fact that behavioral treatments can be effective does not mean addiction isn’t a real illness.
Human behavior begins in the brain. Advanced brain studies show that different types of treatments, such as psychotherapy and medication, can change brain function. This is true for depression and other illnesses, including addiction. Sometimes behavioral treatments, like counseling, are enough. Sometimes medication may be required as well.
MYTH: Prescription drugs are not addictive like street drugs because they come from a doctor.
REALITY: Even if drugs are prescribed by your physician, you may be at risk.
Addiction to prescription medications, including painkillers, sedatives and stimulants, is a serious and growing problem among all age groups. These drugs can be highly addictive and have serious harmful effects. Even if these drugs are prescribed by your physician, you can become addicted.
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