Busting 8 Common Addiction Myths
In today’s day and age, there are unfortunately still so many myths surrounding addiction. These addiction myths continue to perpetuate the stigmas society has regarding the disease.
To kick off recovery month, we’re going to take a look at 8 common addiction myths about substance use disorder and recovery. We’ll get down to what the truth really is about some of these misconceptions.
Read on to gain a better understanding of addiction, and to bust 8 common addiction myths with us!
8 Common Myths About Addiction and Recovery
Below are 8 common myths about addiction and recovery:
Myth #1: Addiction is a choice
First up, let’s take a look at the myth that “addiction is a choice.”
The first time someone uses a substance, they’re choosing to do so. Some people go through an experimental phase where their curiosity prompts them to engage in use. Additionally, environmental factors, sociocultural factors, mental and emotional states, and other predispositions can all prompt someone to want to try alcohol or drugs. However, addiction is a completely different ballgame.
Professionals in the field state that addiction is a chronic disease, similar to heart disease or diabetes. When someone has a substance use disorder, the brain has become rewired to seek out the substance in order to function at a baseline. Changes in the brain’s reward system as well as the brain’s neural pathways illicit a compulsion to continuously seek substances. When someone has reached the point of addiction, it is far from a choice.
Myth #2: Someone with an addiction could stop using if they really wanted to
The second in our list of addiction myths is the idea that “someone could stop using if they really wanted to.” When it comes down to it, someone could have the desire in their heart to stop using. However, the mental compulsion due to changes in their brain will continue to compel them to seek drugs or alcohol. The brain compels people to use even when they don't necessarily want to.
The brain’s reward circuit becomes flooded by the neurotransmitter dopamine when most drugs are ingested. These dopamine surges prompt continuous reinforcement of substance use. Additionally, ongoing use creates changes in the areas of the brain that are responsible for judgment, impulse-control, decision-making, and behaviour.
When someone reaches the point of addiction after chronic use, the substances that once gave them a “high” or desired effect now no longer have those same effects. The body and brain have become so used to them due to what is known as tolerance. At this point, the body will physically become sick if it doesn’t receive the substance. The brain continues to compel someone to engage in use simply to avoid feeling sick.
In addition to this, there are certain substances that could illicit incredibly dangerous effects if someone stopped using them cold turkey.
Some of the potential withdrawal effects of alcohol include:
- high blood pressure
- rapid heart rate
In some cases, abrupt cessation of alcohol use can lead to seizures, delirium tremens, and even death.
Similarly, quitting benzodiazepines cold turkey can also have potentially fatal effects. This is why entering a detox or inpatient rehab facility is so critical. Individuals will be able to gradually taper substances out of their bodies to ensure their physical well-being.
Myth #3: Once someone is addicted, they’re addicted for life
If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “a leopard never changes its spots,” you’ll know where the third of our addiction myths is headed. Many believe that once someone is addicted to something, they’re addicted for life. However, people have proven time and time again that this is simply not true, and research has backed this.
Studies have shown that addiction is treatable and can be managed successfully. Anyone is capable of recovering from addiction. It may take time to find the treatment programme or path to healing that works for their unique needs. However, everyone is capable of experiencing a long-lasting, healthy recovery from addiction with the right help and support.
Myth #4: Relapse is failure
The next of the addiction myths we’ll dive into is the idea that “experiencing a relapse is a complete failure” and it means any progress in recovery has been ruined. However, this is simply not true. Of course, the goal is to avoid relapse and live a full, meaningful life without the influence of substances. However, relapse does happen for many people. Furthermore, it is also a characteristic of addiction, so it is something to be aware of.
Relapse is dangerous for multiple reasons, the most potent reason being potential overdose. But, another consequence of relapse is what people make it mean. Relapse does not mean failure. It means the person struggling with use and still has underlying issues to work through. It means that some changes need to be made in their treatment programme or how they’re approaching their healing journey. A relapse is an indicator of more work that needs to be done beneath the surface, and that’s okay.
Myth #5: An addicted person just needs to stop using to get better
The next myth is that “an addicted person just needs to stop using to get better.” Unfortunately, addiction is not only about the substances. When someone is engaging in chronic substance use, they likely began using in an effort to numb or suppress difficult emotions. They may have been using substances as a means of escape, or were leaning on the effects of substances to feel alive.
Whatever the case, substances were used to provide something that the person felt was missing. Therefore, a big part of recovery is finding that missing piece, and being able to give it to oneself. Physically stopping substance use is only the first step. The mental, emotional, and spiritual healing and growth, which is an ongoing process for anyone, is a massive part of the continuing recovery journey.
Myth #6: Someone only needs to go to rehab/treatment once to be “cured”
The next myth is that someone who is addicted “only needs to go to rehab once to be cured.” The truth is, receiving inpatient treatment at a rehab facility may be the only thing someone needs to get started on their recovery journey. However, others may need to try different forms of treatment before they find something that truly resonates with them and is able to help them. Unfortunately, there isn’t one “cure-all” form of treatment for addiction, as there isn’t one single reason that addiction develops in the first place.
Addiction is a complex disease brought on by a combination of multiple factors that can include genetic predisposition, environmental factors, sociocultural factors, trauma or adverse childhood experiences, and mental health status. It can take trying a few different forms of treatment before finding the type of treatment that helps someone based on their own unique needs, struggles, and experiences.
Myth #7: People need to hit “rock bottom” before they can change or get help
Another one of the common addiction myths is that “people need to hit rock bottom before they can get help.” For some, hitting rock bottom is the wake-up call they need to access the vulnerability and courage to seek treatment. However, hitting rock bottom isn’t a prerequisite for seeking treatment. Many people seek help when they start to become aware of the nature of their addiction, or the consequences of their use. Many people seek help when they realise they’re unable to stop using despite a desire to.
Additionally, many people want to seek help long before hitting “rock bottom.” However, feelings of guilt and shame prevent them from taking that courageous step. The truth is, people seek treatment at all different stages, and hitting rock bottom isn’t required.
Myth #8: Addiction is a moral failure
The last of the addiction myths on our list is that “addiction is a moral failure.” Even with all of the research that has been accumulated over the years defining addiction as a disease, many still believe addiction is a choice driven by poor morals. Further, they believe those who become addicted are “bad people.”
The truth is that addiction can happen to anyone. Developing an addiction does not mean someone is a bad person or a moral failure. Those who develop an addiction are struggling with a mental health disorder that quite literally creates a mental compulsion within them to do things they normally wouldn’t do if they were of sober and sound mind.
A final word on addiction myths
The stigmas surrounding addiction can make it incredibly difficult for those who are struggling to seek help. Here at Recoverlution, we offer a refuge for those in any stage of recovery to find community and connection, wellness tools, knowledge, and resources to aid them on their journey through recovery.
Join us, help us in reducing the stigma attached to this insidious disease, and let others know that recovery from addiction is possible!
Author - Thurga
Read more: 10 common questions about addiction answered
- Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Outpatient Management:https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2021/0900/p253.html
- The benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7841856/
- Understanding drug abuse and addiction: https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-use-addiction
- Drugs, brains and beahviour. the science behind addiction: https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drugs-brain