Unfortunately, many misconceptions surround substance abuse, addiction, treatment, and recovery. The stigma attached to drug addiction sometimes prevents people from obtaining the help they need. Through education and public awareness, we can eradicate some of the myths about drug addiction and assist those on their way toward recovery.
Seven Myths About Drug Addiction
MYTH: People addicted to drugs can stop using whenever they wish.
FACT: Substance use affects the brain, causing addiction and dependence.
Did you know that continued use of a drug can actually rewire the brain, compelling it to seek out that substance again and again? The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences” (source). It changes the way the brain works, often leading to self-destructive behaviors. After a period of time, the person’s body requires the drug in order to not feel sick from withdrawal. Although the initial decision to take drugs was likely voluntary, a person’s ability to quit a drug becomes extremely difficult once addiction takes hold. The idea that this behavior is voluntary is one of the most persistent and harmful myths about drug addiction; it is not easy to “shake off” addiction.
MYTH: It is realistic to quit a drug alone, going “cold turkey.”
FACT: Quitting is a difficult process that usually requires professional help.
Quitting a drug “cold turkey” is possible but extremely difficult due to the body’s physical dependence on the drug. After repeatedly using a substance, the body naturally adapts to the exposure. When that substance is not provided, unpleasant symptoms can occur due to the withdrawal: anxiety, seizures, depression, tremors, sweating, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, nausea, diarrhea, etc. Facing this alone is extremely challenging. A professional can help people who are addicted seek a healthier direction in life by teaching drug refusal skills, providing resources for moments of weakness, locating a community for support, and offering medications and/or psychological therapy.
MYTH: Intervening early is ineffective.
FACT: Intervening early increases the odds of a good outcome.
If a loved one is addicted to drugs and on a downward trajectory, don’t wait until they hit rock bottom to express your concern and offer support. If you intervene while your loved one still has a structured life (typically due to work or school), interests and hobbies, and social connections, they are far more likely to overcome their addiction. Surprisingly, even if your loved one is not enthusiastic about treatment, their ambivalence will not destroy their opportunity for recovery. People who enter a drug treatment program due to loving pressure sometimes even perform better than as those who join due to voluntary interest (source).
MYTH: A relapse indicates that long-lasting recovery is unachievable.
FACT: Many people have relapses before fully recovering.
Relapses are common. If your loved one suffers a relapse following treatment, that doesn’t mean the treatment failed or that recovery is impossible. Relapses can happen when the person is feeling healthy and confident or when they are struggling to maintain sobriety. Either way, a relapse presents a learning opportunity. Following a relapse, it is important that the person identifies what triggered their drug use and finds ways to address or avoid that trigger in the future.
MYTH: Punishing a person addicted to drugs is effective in preventing future drug use.
FACT: Positive reinforcement is far more effective than punishment.
Many people are tempted to punish a loved one addicted to drugs, sometimes calling it “tough love.” They might push the person away, shame them, yell and scream, or take away privileges. Unfortunately, this fails to address the fact that addiction is a brain disease. Instead of punishing your loved one, try to provide support and show compassion. Reinforce positive behaviors, and encourage healthy activities that compete with substance use. Try to determine what has caused your loved one to use (for example, boredom, lack of purpose, insecurity, curiosity, loneliness, thrill seeking), so that you can offer alternative behaviors.
MYTH: All doctors and drug treatment programs address addiction in the same way.
FACT: Doctors and treatment programs vary, so you may need to explore several options to find a method that works.
Of the many myths about drug addiction, this is one of the most dangerous, because it perpetuates an attitude of hopelessness. If a specific treatment plan or doctor is not helping your loved one, explore alternatives to find the most effective approach. Most programs combine several forms of treatment: counseling, cognitive therapy, psychotherapy, medications, etc. In addition, the program may vary based on the person’s age and social environment. For example, substance abuse treatment for teenagers often relies heavily on family involvement.
MYTH: You can’t be addicted to prescription drugs.
FACT: Many prescription drugs can be addictive and dangerous.
Just because a doctor prescribes a medication and you pick it up at a pharmacy, that doesn’t mean it is completely safe and non-addictive. Many prescribed medications are extremely potent and can lead to abuse and addiction. For example, many people become addicted to opioids (oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl), benzodiazepines, sleep aids, barbiturates, and stimulants (like ADHD medication). These medications should be taken at the prescribed dosage for a short period of time to prevent addiction. Our nation is currently in the grip of an opioid epidemic, and drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury death in the U.S. (source). Do not make the mistake of thinking that prescription drugs are harmless when compared to “street drugs” like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.
Finally, some myths about drug addiction impact people’s views on drug testing. For example, some assume that drug testing is primarily used to punish students and employees. In fact, drug testing can identify people suffering from drug addiction and help them seek treatment. It also acts as a means of prevention, encouraging users to quit and providing a reason for people to say no when offered drugs in a social situation.
If you’re looking to implement drug and alcohol testing, contact Tomo Drug Testing. Based in Springfield (MO), St. Louis (MO), Kansas City (MO), Indianapolis (IN), and Evansville (IN), we offer customized solutions to make drug testing simple, and our nationwide network of clinics and onsite providers allows Tomo to be available anytime, anywhere. We also provide education sessions for DOT employers and employees. For a free needs analysis or more information, give us a call today at 1-888-379-7697 or contact us online. We would be happy to help!