Addiction Myths and the Damage They Do
Drug Addiction Myths
For those who have never been touched by addiction, it all seems pretty simple. Addicts should just exercise some willpower and get over it, no? In fact, the common misunderstandings and myths about addiction can be very damaging, both to addicts and their families, and indeed to society as a whole. Let's take a look at some of them.
1. Addicts Are Bad People and Deserve What They Get
Where do you even start with this one? No, addicts are not bad people—they are, by and large, normal, ordinary people, just like you and me. It's true that addicts do some bad things, including lying, cheating, and stealing in order to feed their habit, but that's a different story. People from all backgrounds and all walks of life can become addicts; the disease changes their behavior, but it does not change who they fundamentally are.
The Damage This Myth Does: This kind of prejudice against addicts can make people delay seeking treatment for their addiction, and it also causes pain and unnecessary shame to their families.
2. Addiction is a Choice
No, it isn't. The first use of alcohol or drugs is a choice, but who then goes on to become addicted is a complex mix of genetics, personality, and environmental factors. Studies have shown that there are pre-existing neurological differences in the brains of people who go on to become addicted to substances; as the addiction progresses, long term brain chemistry changes to make it even more difficult for the addict to recover. It is not simply a matter of choice or willpower.
The Damage This Myth Does: This lack of understanding about the physiological and neurological causes of addiction leads to unnecessary hostility towards addicts.
3. Treatment for Addiction Should Be Harsh
The media likes to depict addicts as dangerous low-life people, which fuels the public perception that addiction treatment should be harsh, and based on shame. Nothing could be further from the truth. We now know that shaming an addict is more likely to lead to relapse, and that compassionate treatment is more likely to lead to a successful recovery—which is not only good for the addict, but good for society.
The Damage This Myth Does: Addicts will be put off seeking treatment if they believe they are likely to be treated harshly, and public pressure to do so is counter to good practice.
4. Addicts Must Reach Rock Bottom Before Treatment Is Effective
No. Studies prove that the earlier the intervention comes, the more effective it is likely to be. Besides, who gets to define "rock bottom"? The prompt which finally triggers an addict to seek help is different for everyone.
The Damage This Myth Does: This myth perpetuates the idea that someone's addiction is not "bad enough" to need treatment, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth.
5. If an Addict Relapses, They Cannot Be Successfully Treated in the Future
Recovery from addiction is a lifelong process. Many addicts will suffer one or more relapses during that process; this does not mean that the addict, their family, or society should give up. Instead, it's important to analyze in each individual case what caused the relapse, and to tailor future treatment better in order to avoid another one.
The Damage This Myth Does: This myth is not helpful to those who have relapsed, as it removes their hope of an eventual recovery—and without that will and hope on the part of the addict, recovery won't happen.
6. Addicts Cannot Hold Down a Job
Many addicts do work full time, and may on the surface appear to be also fully participating in society and in family life. Often an addiction is successfully hidden for a long time before it becomes more obvious—and in some careers, drug or alcohol use is almost seen as par for the course. Meanwhile, once an addict is in recovery, getting back into employment is a vital part of their ongoing return to normality.
The Damage This Myth Does: This myth effectively covers up addicts who are able to maintain a semblance of normality in their day to day lives, and helps them to believe that they don't need to seek help.
7. You Can Only Be Addicted to One Substance
Polysubstance addiction is becoming more and more common. Some addicts use one type of drug to counter the effects of another; some will use whatever is available to them at the time; some will actively use different drugs in order to seek an enhanced high. Polysubstance addiction is even more complicated to treat than single substance addiction, and often goes hand in hand with other mental health disorders.
The Damage This Myth Does: This myth has public health implications for the way we treat addiction, and also needs countering as part of better public knowledge about addiction.