Episode 3 - Debunking Addiction Myths
Debunking Addictions Myths
We live in a world of urban myths. You’ve heard the stories that we never really landed on the moon; it was all shot in a sound studio. Or what about the myth that we are storing aliens in Roswell, New Mexico after their space crafts cashed on Earth? Myths seem to be part of our culture, but unfortunately, they exist in the way people view others who struggle with addiction.
Let’s look at some of the more common myths and debunk them as we get more educated about the reality behind addiction.
Myth #1: Addiction is a choice.
Nobody would make the choice to be addicted. Perhaps the person made the choice to misuse substances, but certainly did not make a choice to become an addict. Addiction is a “complex disease of the brain and body that involves compulsive use of one or more substances despite serious health and social consequences”.
For an addict, the “reward center” of the brain that produces a pleasurable feeling, is hijacked when the drug or substance is used. The brain naturally produces dopamine, a reward neurotransmitter, but the use of drugs or alcohol produces an excesses release of dopamine each time it used.
This results in a “high”. Once the high wears off, the individual’s brain craves more of the drug to obtain the same pleasurable rush it received the first time. To continuously achieve the high the drug will have to produce a similar dopamine release each time. This requires an ever-increasing amount of the target substance. What may look like a choice to you is a brain-driven compulsion to the addict.
Myth #2: Willpower and choices are all that’s needed to get and stay sober.
It is more than simply choosing to ignore the urge to use drugs, it’s a recognition that addiction is a CHRONIC and COMPLEX brain disease which is an important first step in eliminating this addiction myth. Addiction creates neurological changes that alter one’s ability to think and act. And while the person may able to verbalize their desire to quit, the brain will convince them otherwise.
Recovery from substance abuse requires a process that addresses the whole person. With some tools and support, recovering addicts will be able to better combat physical and psychological dependence on their drug use healthfully and what looks like bad choices will slowly disappear.
Myth #3: Addiction only happens to certain kinds of people.
Addiction can happen to anyone, no matter their upbringing, what neighborhood they live in, who their parents are, their personality type, or school performance. There are genetic, social, and psychological risk factors that put some people at greater risk—but it has nothing to do with a person’s character. My normal middle-class family lost both a husband and a daughter to the disease. Nobody would have ever guessed that we would be at risk. It can happen to anyone, at anytime and anywhere.
Myth #4: People with addiction are hopeless.
Many people can and do keep the disease of addiction in remission, most often referred to as recovery. Once treatment begins, someone with a substance use disorder can manage the disease, just as they would any other chronic illness. With the right treatment, recovery is possible for everyone.
Myth #5: Treatment for drug addiction should be a one-shot deal.
Like many other illnesses, drug addiction is a chronic disorder. To be sure, some people can quit drugs "cold turkey," or they can quit after receiving treatment just one time at a rehab facility. But most of those who abuse drugs require longer-term treatment and, in many instances, repeated treatments. Addiction is not an acute disease you are cured from in 30 days. It is like other diseases that require a lifetime of management to stay healthy.
Myth #6: People have to hit rock bottom before they seek help.
You don’t wait for the most severe symptoms to happen when you are having heart issues. You go to the ER. Many factors motivate a person to enter and complete substance abuse treatment before they hit "rock bottom." Pressure from family members and employers, as well as their own recognition that they have an unmanageable problem; can be powerful motivating factors. Teenagers under the age of 18 can be admitted to treatment by their parents even if they are not willing participants.
Myth #7: Addiction should be treated alone without focusing on other mental health issues.
Addiction is a complex brain disease and the same rewiring of the brain is often accompanied by other disorders such as anxiety, depression or PTSD. Addiction treatment should take a holistic approach to identify and manage the other disorders to ensure sustained recovery.
Addressing the myths of addiction requires that we educate ourselves, educate those that are struggling with the disease, their families, loved ones, friends and coworkers. Education elevates understanding and empowers people to best support the individual as they go through the long-term process to manage and control the disease. Let’s debunk the myths and face the reality of how we should view the disease and those that are afflicted.
InterAct LifeLine’s mission is to help provide that education to clients of treatment programs, to families going through the journey and to anyone else that is struggling to manage the disease. Being informed is a first step in reducing relapse, improving recovery, and not judging people who are trying to return to health and wellness.