Drug addiction is a complex and progressive condition that affects people from all walks of life. While growing research strongly indicates that addiction stems from a variety of social, biological, and environmental factors, many myths about addiction persist. Unfortunately, these myths help perpetuate stigma—and this prevents those who struggle with substance abuse getting the help they need. The following are five myths about addiction that don’t paint a complete picture of this condition.
Myth #1: You Can Spot An Addict By Looking at Them
One of the biggest myths about addiction is that an addict can be easily picked out in a crowd. For many, people see addicts as living under bridges, are disheveled and unkempt, or are outcasts living on the fringe of society. While there may be addicts that fit these descriptions, an overwhelming number of drug addicts have jobs, families and by all appearances look “normal”. Addicts can hide their addictive behavior from family, friends, and co-workers. It is no surprise that many addicts are highly-functioning and can outwardly appear to be successful. Many even hold high-status professional roles and support their families.
Myth #2: Addiction Develops Because Of a Lack of Willpower
Another one of the persistent myths about addiction is those who suffer from this condition do so because of a lack of willpower. Many people view addiction as a moral failing and believe addicts are “broken” or have something wrong with them. For many addicts, this can be far from the truth, as they can often be very motivated hard workers who tend to be powerless over their addictions. Drug and alcohol addiction typically develops over time and involves several social, biological, and environmental factors. Prolonged substance abuse significantly alters one’s brain chemistry, which impairs body and brain functioning. Under these conditions, will power is no match for the physiological changes that alter reward circuitry in the brain, making deep seeded addiction very difficult to overcome, and may require professional help.
Myth #3: Drug Treatment Doesn’t Work
For those addicted to drugs, some feel that drug treatment won’t work for them. This myth does have some foundation to it in the fact that relapse is an unfortunate yet common occurrence in recovery. Because of that, addicts feel that drug treatment is a waste of time.
The fact is there are many different types of treatment options that are available that can be individually tailored to meet an addict’s specific needs. The main reason why addicts feel that treatment doesn’t work is they don’t consider all available options, or they’re simply not ready to fully commit to their recovery.
Myth #4: “I Can Quit Anytime I Want”
Another prevalent myth about addiction is that an addict can simply quit anytime they want. Discontinuing the use of a substance isn’t as easy as it sounds. Prolonged use of a substance creates a strong dependence through physiological changes to brain chemistry, which can make it very difficult to function without it. Merely quitting drugs and alcohol produce powerful withdrawal symptoms that can be painful, uncomfortable, and potentially life-threatening. Even if an addict can stop the use of a substance, long term abstinence often relies on addressing the underlying issues that promoted the addiction in the first place.
Myth #5: Detox Alone Will Cure Addiction
Addicts often operate under the assumption that detoxification alone will cure them of addiction. Medical detoxification is effective in helping to wean addicts off of addictive and dangerous substances. Detox also helps an addict better tolerate the physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal and helps them feel better.
While this is true, detox is not a standalone treatment or a “cure” for addiction. Detoxification is a part of a comprehensive treatment plan which includes therapy, 12-step or similar sober support, life and coping skills training, and other interventions. Most addicts need to abstain from their substance of abuse for the rest of their lives, which takes long term dedication to remain sober. Breaking an addiction is only the beginning of a process of uncovering and addressing the root causes of addiction.