It is an unfortunate reality that a significant number of myths surround substance use disorder (SUD). They are perpetuated due to the stigma associated with substance abuse. While they may seem harmless and simply borne out of ignorance, they are far more sinister. With misconceptions running rampant, the truth is buried under lies. This makes it difficult for the people who need help to find the proper information, and it can also serve as a tool to keep these individuals quiet and prevent them from speaking up.
Breaking Apart the Myths of Addiction
Many myths have common themes of describing those struggling with addiction as lazy, immoral, selfish, and a lost cause. Rather than seeing these individuals as everyday people struggling to overcome a physical and psychological disease, these myths villainize and ostracize them, casting them away as hopeless and not worth helping. Can you imagine what it would feel like to have these things said about you or someone you love? Would you feel like there is any point in reaching out for help if this is what you fear the response will be?
Breaking apart these myths can diminish the power that stigma has. Information can shed light on the darkness and give a voice to the silence. By recognizing inaccuracies and knowing the truth, you can more effectively and confidently advocate for yourself and others.
#1. They Did It to Themselves
This common myth claims that addiction is a choice. It posits that an individual grappling with SUD is actively deciding to use substances to the point of physical, psychological, and social harm. Addiction is, in actuality, a disease, not a choice. With sustained use, alcohol and drugs can rewire the brain, causing a person to become dependent on them to function in their daily life. Some substances can have this effect with even one use. Upon trying to stop, there are extremely unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that reinforce the need to use again. As this dependence continues, a person’s tolerance increases, meaning that they will need to continually use more and more of the substance to achieve the desired effect or stave off the undesired effects. This creates an ever-tightening cycle where the worse the problem becomes, the less able the person is to fix it.
Addiction can start in seemingly benign ways. Many people like to drink socially, associating parties with alcohol. While this can start out fun, some people may gradually lose control of their intake and may shift from just drinking socially to also drinking alone to satisfy those urges.
Some people like to occasionally drink or use drugs to take the edge off after a long day of work or while experiencing family troubles. While this can provide relief in the short term, it is setting the groundwork for an emotional and subsequently physical dependence on substances.
Still, other people may have been prescribed strong pain medication for an injury. Once the prescription ran out, they were left with intense withdrawal symptoms and a return of the pain, leading them to seek those drugs to continue using a substance a doctor prescribed them.
In each of these three examples, the individuals chose to use substances, but they could not have predicted the eventual consequences. There is also a genetic aspect of addiction that means an individual can inherit the predisposition to develop dependency.
#2. If They Wanted to Stop, They Would
Just like with the previous myth, this claim negates the reality that people have control over their addiction. No one in their right mind would choose to endure the pain of addiction. It is not something with an on and off switch, but rather a complicated set of symptoms with a biological basis.
#3. Treatment Does Not Work
This is far from true. There are a wide variety of treatments available for those living with addiction as well as licensed professionals specifically trained to address this issue. There are different types of therapies and programs designed to support long-term sobriety and recovery. Many of these are backed by research and are shown to help those struggling with substance abuse. A person with SUD can live a healthy and fulfilling life free from substances with the help of treatment.
#4. They Only Care About Themselves
This myth characterizes a person living with addiction as selfish. Due to intense cravings, an individual might use money intended for other purposes to obtain more drugs or alcohol. The highs and lows of substances can translate into mood swings and lead to anger or withdrawn behavior. The effects on concentration can limit productivity in the workplace. While all of these things have consequences for other people, they are symptoms of a disease, not an indication that an individual does not care about the people around them.
#5. You Should Hit ‘Rock Bottom’ Before Getting Help
This myth is one of the most harmful. It perpetuates the idea that a person has to lose everything and run out of options before treatment will really work. In reality, early intervention can pave the way to recovery before the worst of addiction materializes.
#6. Relapse Is the End
This last myth claims that a person’s recovery is no longer valid in the event of a relapse. In reality, relapse is often part of the process of getting sober. Nobody is perfect, and this applies to those with SUD. One mistake does not erase all of the hard work of treatment. Instead of signaling the end, it can instead indicate that a change is required, and this can be helpful information for an individual’s treatment team.
Humans are and will always be social creatures. As much as we try to convince ourselves that we are not affected by what other people think or say about us, we fundamentally want to be accepted and understood. This is why myths about addiction are particularly dangerous. The spread of negative and inaccurate ideas about substance use disorder perpetuates the stigma that prevents people from getting the help they desperately need. Addiction is associated with so much shame and pain, and circulating hateful views on people living with this condition will only exacerbate that. At Family-Centered Services, we will work with you and your family to overcome addiction and prove the naysayers wrong. We offer a variety of services and are comprised of a team of licensed clinicians who want to see you take control of the narrative and thrive in the face of adversity. Learn more at (509) 991-5822.