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5 Myths About Addiction (and the Facts Behind Them)

Myth #1: Since addiction is a disease, an addict will always be just as addicted.

Fact: Yes, addiction is a disease. Both the American Society of Addiction Medicine and the American Medical Association recognize addiction as a disease, and there are many scientific articles (like this one from the Center on Addiction) that support the idea that it is, in fact, a disease and must be treated as such.

Where people can get confused by this, however, is in thinking that this means that there’s nothing that they can do about it. While they may or may not believe that they can stop using, at least temporarily, people are often under the impression that regardless of what they do, the cravings will always be just as severe as they are at the height of their addiction.

This is a dangerous train of thought, as it can lead people to believe that the road to recovery is simply too difficult, and worse, when they do get there that they will be in a constant state of misery.

So yes, addiction is a disease, but it is treatable, and its effects can be significantly lessened. The Center on Addiction states that “even the most severe, chronic form of the disorder can be manageable and reversible, usually with long term treatment and continued monitoring and support for recovery.”

While it’s true that severe addicts may always feel the effects of their addiction to some degree (and may find themselves more sensitive to certain environmental triggers), it doesn’t mean that they will always feel the addiction as strongly as they do while they are using.

Myth #2: Treatment failed once, it’ll just continue failing.

Fact: Relapse is often a part of the road to recovery. Yes, some people are able to quit on their first attempt at treatment, but according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 40-60% of those who go through treatment relapse at some point.

Relapse doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it just means you’ve stumbled. A temporary setback should tell you that you need to resume treatment immediately, or speak to your counselor or doctor about modifying it or trying a new one altogether.

This doesn’t mean, however, that relapse is something to be taken lightly. After going through treatment, an addict’s body can be less adapted to the substance and there is a serious risk of overdosing. Rather than treating a relapse like a failure, it should be seen as a sign to immediately seek treatment again!

Myth #3: An addict must seek treatment themselves; you can’t help someone that doesn’t want it.

Fact:  Yes, at some point an addict has to make a decision to go down the road to recovery.  But that doesn’t mean that they have to do it alone, nor does it mean that the idea has to even be theirs to begin with.

It’s been said many times – addiction is a lonely disease.  Those that are dealing with addiction often feel like they’re doing so in secret, by themselves. No matter how obvious it may seem to those around them, friends, family, and loved ones often choose not to talk about it with the addict for fear of hurting feelings, angering them, pushing them away, or myriad other reasons.

The truth is, however, the addict almost always desperately needs to know that they’re not alone.

Responses to a confrontation about addiction may not (and honestly, usually aren’t) initially positive. The addict may respond exactly as the confronter feared they might – with anger, fear, or resentment. But while they may push the person away, they are at least forced to face the fact that their problem is not a secret.

While this can be scary, it can also be empowering. An addict that may never have sought treatment themselves may find themselves more open to the idea if they know that they have someone rooting for them or helping them. They may also simply not know where to find help, or how to go about it – a friend or family member helping can make all the difference.

Myth #4: You need to wait for a “rock bottom” before seeking treatment.

Fact: Don’t wait for anything. If you or a loved one is facing addiction, seek treatment immediately. The idea that you need to wait, or even force, a “rock bottom” is a dangerous misunderstanding of the concept.

“Rock Bottom” is, simply put, the lowest point an addict gets to before they seek treatment. Yes, recovering addicts will talk about their rock bottom and the moment of clarity that followed, but it’s not some pre-set point that is universal for all addicts. Sure, for some, that may be a DUI or some other legal trouble and waking up in jail. For others, though, that rock bottom might be getting confronted by a friend or loved one about their problem. If that’s what it takes to turn it around, then congratulations, you hit rock bottom and are ready to bounce back up.

The myth that you need to somehow wait for a lower point than you’re currently at to seek treatment is dangerous for many reasons. For one, it means you keep affecting all of the people around you with your addiction, and if you’re a parent especially this continues to put others at risk.

There’s really only one truly universal rock bottom: death.  Seek treatment before you hit that particular floor.

Myth #5: Beating addiction is a matter of will. When you truly want to quit, you simply choose to quit.

Fact: As we said before, addiction is a disease, and it makes physical changes to the addict’s brain. Quitting can be often difficult if not outright impossible by themselves.

The Center on Addiction also points out that each person’s body and brain respond differently to drugs and alcohol.  That means that there are physiological factors that make some people predisposed to addiction while others are naturally more resistant.

Regardless of their natural tendency toward addiction, once an addict is “hooked,” physical and chemical changes occur that make quitting through sheer willpower very difficult.  That’s why seeking professional help is so important – it can take something that may seem impossible and give the person the tools to give them their life back.