8 Damaging Misconceptions about Substance Abuse
We have certainly come a long way when it comes to our understanding of substance abuse. Unfortunately, the myths surrounding it have proven to be persistent, making it difficult for many people to go to AA meetings or other types of treatment.
Here are just some of the most serious misconceptions about substance abuse that we should avoid perpetuating:
1.) Illegal Drugs Are Always More Dangerous
While not as lethal as heroin, PCP, or methamphetamines, legal substances such as alcohol, prescription medication, and solvents have the potential to be extremely dangerous when abused. Some illegal substances, such as cannabis, are also demonstrably less deadly than commonly-abused legal substances such as alcohol or tobacco.
2.) It’s All a Matter of Willpower
The idea that all you need is the force of will to overcome addiction is one of the most persistent myths about substance abuse. While willpower may be enough to keep an individual from falling off the wagon occasionally, scientific data shows that relying on willpower alone is not a sustainable method for treating substance abuse.
Addiction is a disease with a physiological as well as a mental component. And like any disease, it requires a systematic solution. While willpower is still essential for many patients, it’s almost always important to supplement this with guidance, therapy, and medical intervention. Depending on the type and severity of addiction, there are a number of different solutions that will help maximize the available willpower a patient has.
3.) Drugs Prescribed By Doctors Are Safer
While doctors are, ideally, supposed to avoid prescribing highly addictive medication when there are safer alternatives available, it may be easier said than done. Prescription opiates are the biggest contributor to the current opioid abuse crisis, which underlines the fact that the drugs you get from a doctor can, in fact, just be as deadly as anything you can get off the street.
4.) Addiction Is Forever
This misconception is a bit more tricky, as some kinds of substance abuse can change your brain chemistry to the point that there is essentially no going back. Even some treatment programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous lend some credence to the misconception by having participants introduce themselves as alcoholics even if it may have been decades since they had their last drink.
However, if we were to leave semantic arguments for what constitutes “addiction” aside, addiction to a specific substance does not necessarily have to be “forever”. There is some evidence that most people do completely recover from milder addictions with no need to enter a program. However, entering a program is still recommended in more serious cases.
5.) Addiction Only Happens to Morally Weak People
This is absolutely incorrect. The tendency to to be addicted is determined partly by genetics, which means that there are people for whom it simply isn’t a choice. Economic circumstances and the environment may also make addiction more or less likely. People from all walks of life can also become addicted to any substance or action that causes chemical imbalances in their brain. Even something as innocuous as social media or gossiping can become addictive, and it’s clear that the people around us with these addictions are not necessarily less moral than anyone else.
6.) Detox and Recovery Programs Are a Scam
Most mainstream recovery programs are on the level. Unfortunately, there are a very small minority of detox and recovery programs that are nothing more than a cash grab, or worse, an introduction to some religious cult. However, it would be unfair to characterize all addiction recovery programs as carrying these nefarious connotations.
7.) All Addictions Can Be Treated the Same Way
While the principles of addiction treatment may be broadly similar, different substances can affect the body in different ways. For instance, opiates affect the brain differently than methamphetamines or cannabinoids. Neither can you treat something like a gambling addiction in the same way that you treat dependence on alcohol, given that the latter has a much stronger physical component. Each case of dependency has to be taken in context, with solutions tailored specifically for the situation.
8.) Recovery Programs Will Suck All the Fun Out of Your Life
It all depends on what you value. Staying addicted is a very comfortable place to be, which can be understood as “fun” by a lot of people. However, most people who are suffering from substance abuse give up a lot in terms of their relationships with others, and most will suffer consequences to their professional lives as well.
Sticking with a vetted recovery program may take away the “fun” by removing what you are dependent on. But in exchange, you will have more opportunities to have fun in other aspects of your life. In many cases, it may be the only way you can be truly happy on your own terms.
Substance abuse is an extremely serious problem that affects people across every segment of society. Before we can truly begin to start addressing the problem, we must all understand what the problem is — and what it isn’t. By unlearning the misconceptions we have about addiction, we are better able to find the right path to recovery.