Despite the prevalence of addiction in our society, it remains a mystery to many people. Addiction has a stigma attached to it, partly because people do not want to talk about it. People suffering from addiction experience an overwhelming sense of shame and embarrassment, making it difficult for them to come forward to get the help they need.
Through all of this mystery, urban legends emerge. Taking their information from movies and other fictional depictions, people develop erroneous views of what drug addiction is and what drug addicts look like. Using facts to debunk these common myths about drug addiction can help change the conversation around addiction, so people suffering from addiction are more likely to get the help they need.
Myth #1: Drug Addiction Is a Character Flaw, and People Can Just Get Over It If They Try Hard Enough
It is easy for someone who has never felt the pull of addiction to believe people could just get over it. No matter what the substance of choice, it has to be administered by the user — either drunk, smoked, injected or snorted. It seems as though it would be a choice whether or not to do these things. Unfortunately, addiction can sneak up on a person and before they know it, they can’t control it.
As the field of brain science and research progresses, we learn more about what causes addiction. It cannot be simply avoided by abstaining from drugs. Addiction can be attached to almost any substance or activity. Although science cannot yet explain it all, it is clear that changes take place in the brain when drugs are involved. Those changes do not simply reverse when the drugs are removed from the equation.
Addiction is a complicated physical and mental condition — a disease — that perpetuates itself. Once addiction takes hold, professional intervention is required to break the cycle. Addiction destroys families and ruins lives. If people could “just get over it” that easily, don’t you think they would?
Myth #2: Prescription Drugs Aren’t Dangerous Because They’re Prescribed
After a vigorous screening process, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approves prescription drugs, determining they are safe and effective when used as directed. The FDA sets strict guidelines for how a prescription drug can be used and for what conditions. After that, it’s all up to you.
Many prescription drugs are known to be addictive, like all of the modern opioid pain relievers. The value of the pain-relieving qualities the drugs offer is believed to outweigh the risk of addiction. Doctors prescribe these drugs because they work when nothing else will, but they require close monitoring and strict adherence to the dosing instructions.
Once a prescription is written and filled, however, the FDA and doctor have no control over the pills. If you choose to increase your dose or trade them to a friend, prescription drugs can be very dangerous. Once an addiction develops, some well-meaning patients will lie about the intensity of their pain or go to other doctors to get more pills. These practices are very dangerous.
The addictive qualities of some prescription drugs are well-documented. If you have a personal or family history of addiction to any substance, it is safest to avoid prescription medications that are potentially addictive. To protect your health, though, you need to share your concerns with the prescribing doctor.
Myth #3: Alcohol Addiction Isn’t Dangerous Because Alcohol Is Legal
Except during Prohibition, alcohol has always been legal in this country and is the most socially acceptable drug throughout history. The dangers of alcohol addiction have only recently come to light with additional research into brain activity and the causes and consequences of addiction.
In 2013, 70.7 percent of U.S. adults reported drinking alcohol. Approximately 7 percent of those adults had an alcohol use disorder. Each year 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes. Alcohol misuse and addiction cost the United States approximately $223.5 billion a year. The bottom line: Alcohol addiction is dangerous.
Driving a car is legal, although people die in car accidents every day. The law is not an absolute standard for safety. It is true that some people drink alcohol without experiencing addiction. That does not negate the fact that alcohol is an addictive substance, and an alcohol addiction can be extremely damaging.
Myth #4: Drug Addicts Can’t Recover and Become Valuable Members of Society
Bill W., perhaps the most famous drug addict, not only recovered from his addiction at a time when no one believed recovery was possible, but he also went on to found Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). This support and recovery group has helped thousands of people addicted to substances overcome their addictions. The 12 Step program that Bill W. documented continues to lead the field of addiction recovery today.
There are many examples of highly successful people who overcame addiction. The famous people are the ones you read about, but many “regular” people have overcome an addiction and gone on to be successful, valuable members of society.
Addiction recovery is not easy because addiction is a strong force rooted in brain chemistry. Recovery not only requires behavioral therapy to change your habits, but it also involves treatment for underlying mental or behavioral health illnesses such as depression or post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Modern treatment modalities take a holistic approach to treatment for addiction, realizing addiction affects every part of a person’s life from their mental and emotional state to their physical health.
Addicts do not necessarily get over their addiction, but they learn to manage it. One premise of AA is that once you are an addict, you are always an addict. The key is to understand and control your addiction through abstinence. People can be successful at managing their addiction through recovery programs. They rebuild their lives and stay substance-free, happy and productive.
Myth #5: As Long As You Detox, You Don’t Need Rehab
Detox is only part of the story — it is not successful unless combined with other treatments. Detox just gets the toxins, the drugs, out of your system. It doesn’t actually do anything to fight the addiction. Just getting rid of the drugs in your system does not return everything to normal. It is not like a reset button.
Addiction is a complicated condition involving your brain that affects behaviors. The physical changes that take place in your brain when you use drugs are not the only root of addiction — there is an emotional component that is just as powerful. This is why people can become addicted to food, exercise or other seemingly healthy things. It is not just the danger of the substance involved that creates the addictive pull.
Detox in itself can be a dangerous process depending on the substance you are dealing with. The withdrawal symptoms many people experience are enough to make them use drugs again, just to escape the pain. Detox should never be attempted without professional supervision. Once you succeed in getting all of the drugs out, the cravings to put more drugs in can be overwhelming.
Habits are not easy to break, especially ones that have physical side effects. A rehab program helps sort out a lot of issues and provides strategies for coping with life without substances. This type of therapy is crucial to addiction recovery success.
Myth #6: Drug Addicts Are Bad People
Addiction is affected by genetics, physical health conditions and exposure to trauma, but it is not at all related to ethics or moral values. The idea that drug addicts are bad people often stems from the stereotype of drug addicts that the media perpetuates. The media often depicts addicts as dirty criminals willing to steal or kill to get some more drugs.
In real life, however, drug addicts are just like the people you know. They are college students trying to stay up all night studying, working mothers who thought they needed a little boost to get through their long days, country club members recovering from tennis injuries, grandparents recovering from joint replacement surgery and neighbors dealing with chronic pain from an auto accident.
Most people suffering from addiction did not start out looking for trouble. They had a problem and turned to modern pharmaceuticals to solve it. Unfortunately, there are a lot of highly addictive substances available, even over the counter. Without any knowledge of addiction, how it develops and what signs to look for, good people stumble into it all the time.
Once an addiction develops, it controls everything. People’s behavior changes rapidly to serve their need to continue using whatever substance they are hooked on. This is why you sometimes see otherwise good people doing bad things. They have lost control of their lives, and the addiction has taken over.
Myth #7: Drug Addicts Come From Low-Income Situations
Addiction doesn’t know about income levels. It can happen to someone who spent some of the rent money on heroin to take the edge off their pain or a person who was tempted to try cocaine at a fancy party. The only barrier to addiction is access, and it is not difficult to get drugs in any community across the United States today.
A recent study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information shows that greater income actually increases the chances of drug addiction. The study found that in higher income households, adolescents were more likely to engage in binge drinking, marijuana and cocaine use. For every $1,000 of additional household income, the likelihood increased.
Income alone does not determine a propensity for drug abuse. Many recreational drug users are driven to escape physical or emotional pain. People who experienced traumas in their childhood are more likely to develop drug addictions and other mental or behavioral health illnesses as adults. Some people with mental or behavioral health illness turn to drugs to try to gain some control over their thoughts.
Other people end up addicted to drugs because they had easy access to health care. There are many prescription drugs that are highly addictive. People who can afford health care and visit their doctor for pain — anything from a sprained ankle to elective surgery — get prescriptions for opioid pain relievers. Some of them do not realize the risk of addiction associated with these drugs or that increased or prolonged use can be dangerous.
No matter the socioeconomic status you come from, a drug addiction can put you into a low-income situation. Addiction cannot be ended spontaneously. Instead, it requires increasingly more of the substance to satisfy your craving for the drugs. Addiction can get very expensive. In some cases, people who developed an addiction for opioid pain relievers switched to heroin because it provided the same high, but was cheaper or more easily accessible.
Myth #8: 12 Step Recovery Has to Be Religious
It is easy to assume a 12 Step recovery program is some kind of religious movement. There are mantras and rituals involved — including the Big Book — and the program is heavily dependent on the fellowship among the members. Each meeting begins and ends with a group recitation that sounds like a prayer, and participants “confess” their bad acts to the group.
It’s not about religion, though. 12 Step recovery is a program that works in a systematic way, from one step to the next. Members come from all sorts of backgrounds, including different religions and no religious affiliations at all. They all come together to work the program, which does not require denouncing their beliefs.
In fact, 12 Step recovery programs encourage a deepening of your religious practice if you are inclined to practice any religion at all. The program is not in conflict with any religious views. It only requires that you strive to live a substance-free life.
When Bill W. founded AA, he recognized the value of order in the approach to addiction recovery. He understood that fellowship was an important component to recovery, especially in reinforcing abstinence and avoiding relapse. While one person might not be strong enough to fight the power of addiction, the group could stand together to support each other.
There are many important lessons in the 12 Step recovery program, some may have a religious flavor. Learning to be humble, grateful and forgiving are part of the recovery journey toward a better relationship with yourself. Asking others for forgiveness and trying to make up for the damage your addiction caused is all part of moving forward into a healthier life.
For decades, people have followed the 12 Step method out of addiction and into a healthy, substance-free life. The program has been duplicated for every substance of addiction, in every community and around the world. Maybe this sounds religious to you. The fact is that it represents success in addiction recovery, and that is the goal.
Myth #9: Drug Addicts Are Always Young People
Some drug addicts are young people, but then young people grow older, and the addiction continues. There is a lot of speculation about how drug use in young people becomes more serious as they get older. Some people would like to believe that when teenagers grow up, they simply stop partying and doing drugs. The essence of addiction is that age is not a factor. If you are addicted to drugs at 16, you will still be addicted at 26 unless you get help.
The number of young people using illicit drugs in recent years has declined, while the number of older drug users has increased. In 2012, approximately 12.72 percent of people aged 21 to 40 used illicit drugs. The percentage was up in 2013 for each of those age groups. The percentage of illicit drug users in the 20 to 54 age group and the 65 and older age group also increased during that same one-year period, while the percentage of users aged 12 to 20 decreased.
While drug addiction is not restricted to any one age group, it is a particular problem in teenagers. Addiction causes more long-term damage in the younger age group than it does in older adults. Recent research in brain science suggests that because the teenage brain is not fully developed, the infusion of drugs that alter the natural balance of brain chemicals can cause permanent damage. Addicted teenagers can have lower academic scores, poor athletic performance and increased depression and other mental and behavioral health illnesses.
Myth #10: Drug Addicts Live in Cities, Not Rural Areas
Addicts live everywhere. In fact, there are probably some in your neighborhood, family or social circle that you are not aware of. Addiction is a mental and behavioral health illness that’s partly dependent on access. Every community in the United States has access to alcohol, over-the-counter medications, prescription drugs and illicit substances.
The geographical differences in addiction have to do with age groups and preferred substances. A comparison of the demographics of addiction treatment admissions shows that in rural areas, substance abusers are younger and less ethnically diverse than in urban areas. This distinction matches the differences in the general population from rural to urban areas.
Heroin and cocaine are more popular among urban drug abusers than their rural counterparts, while outside of the cities, drug abusers tend to use alcohol and prescription opioids. These differences can probably be attributed to access. Alcohol has been readily accessible in most communities across the country for decades. Opioids and other prescription medications are distributed by one of the largest established international commercial networks. Pharmaceutical companies easily get their products to even small markets through a network of pharmacies and doctors.
Distribution of heroin and cocaine relies on a sophisticated underground system created by a network of small, illegal operators. They rely heavily on the laws of supply and demand to direct their business efforts. Selling drugs in the city offers a greater return because of the relative population density. A lack of availability of heroin and cocaine in the rural areas, however, does not prevent rural dwellers from developing drug addictions.
By not recognizing that addiction is a problem in cities and rural areas, you are denying people a chance to get the help they need. Whether they live in the city or country and are addicted to alcohol or cocaine, people deserve the resources necessary to build a healthy, happy life.
Educating Yourself Is Key to Overcoming Addiction
Get the facts to dispel the myths that might be holding you back by contacting 12 Keys Rehab. We do not want erroneous information to keep you from recognizing a substance abuse problem you may have.
Addiction is a complicated concept, but we have the expertise to understand your problem and create an individualized treatment program for your recovery. Contact 12 Keys today and talk to one of our compassionate experts about your situation. Let us help you take the next step on a rewarding journey to a healthy, happy life.