What Are The Common Misconceptions About Addiction?

When you’re trying to secretly battle an addiction, it can be easy to fall into the trap of faulty thinking that leads you away from recovery. It may even surprise you that some ideas you have about alcohol or drug abuse may actually be myths.

For every topic under the sun, there are several misconceptions that influence the thinking of others who are unaware. This holds true in the realm of addiction, whether you consider yourself an observer, or someone going through the stages of abuse.

Why Do People Develop Misconceptions About Addiction?

Misconceptions are the faulty ways of thinking that people develop about a certain topic. In the case of addiction, there are several causes as to why there are many myths about drug or alcohol abuse:

  • Lack of information: When an individual has a hidden addiction, they may not attempt to actively search information about how alcohol or drug abuse develops. As a result, they may have self-formed ideas about addiction that works in favor of them continuing the habit.
  • Listening to hearsay: Another source of misconceptions are heard information from people who formed their own ideas about addiction as well. When you are always with a group who have faulty ideas about substance abuse and recovery, you can be swayed to believe their own version of the truth.
  • Denial: Some people who develop misconceptions may also experience a sense of denial about their condition. They either tend to minimize the problem for what it is, or consider their addiction as something else, which gives them an excuse not to seek treatment.

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Common Misconceptions About Addiction

Understanding the common myths about addiction can help a loved one, or even yourself gain the right frame of mind to experience recovery. Below are some of the statements you’ve heard from others or thought of yourself when it comes to substance abuse:

“If you have a career and a family, you can’t be addicted.”

It is easy to assume that just because it seems like a person’s priorities are “aligned”, they are immune from the clutches of addiction. This could never be further from the truth. In fact, a person may even suffer from substance abuse because of issues in their careers and families:

  • High-stress jobs such as emergency first responders, paramedics, and law enforcement are prone to Repeated Exposure Trauma (RET). This leads to depression, anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and unhealthy ways to cope. For example, as many as 1 out of 10 firefighters in the US abused prescription drugs at least once throughout their careers.
  • Access to substances is also a reason why having a career doesn’t spare you from being addicted. For example, healthcare professionals have access to prescription drugs, which makes them more likely to abuse these medications.
  • Family issues may be a culprit with substance abuse. When people experience stress, anxiety, and depression due to family problems, they may also be prone to abuse drugs or alcohol.
  • Family influences also play a role in addiction. Some children are raised in households where at least one parent is an alcoholic or suffering from a drug problem. These habits are subconsciously observed, and in time, children grow up to form an addiction as well.

“I can quit my addiction whenever I want.”

Another myth and one of the main reasons why some people delay seeking help is because they think that recovery happens with a snap of a finger. According to them, they can quit whenever they choose and they can do it successfully every time.

How wonderful would it be if this misconception is true, but sadly, it isn’t. In fact, the longer you wait for treatment, the more difficult it is to experience recovery. Why is this so?

  • Your body adjusts to increase drug or alcohol tolerance. Whether you notice it or not, long-term use of substances leads to increased tolerance. This means that you will eventually need to increase your use of alcohol or drugs to achieve the same effect.
  • When tolerance develops, you cross the line of dependency. After long-term heightened tolerance, your body will eventually ‘expect’ to have drugs or alcohol to function. The first sign of substance dependence is when you experience withdrawal symptoms, making it even more challenging to quit.
  • Dependency leads to addiction. Aside from the negative effects associated with withdrawal, your cravings will turn intense that it will seem impossible to quit. The cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and the feeling of ‘relief’ when you take in more substances are all factors that lead to a full-blown addiction.

As much as we may want it, our body doesn’t work to stop addiction at will. It is best to get professional help right away once you see the signs of addiction.

“I haven’t hit ‘rock bottom’ so I don’t need treatment”

The problem with this thinking is how people perceive the term “rock bottom”. What does being “rock bottom” truly mean? Does it mean losing your career, being kicked out of your house, or experiencing a divorce due to addiction? For some, they may still not consider those situations their own version of “rock bottom”.

Other people would consider being at their lowest point when they’re at the brink of death or experience an overdose multiple times. The concept of hitting rock bottom is very subjective, which leads people to also make misinformed choices about their addiction problem.

The truth is, there is also a risk involved when waiting to hit rock bottom before seeking treatment. The body can only tolerate a certain amount of drugs or alcohol before it shuts down. When a severe addiction persists, it can lead to a host of health problems and even accidental overdose.

The only safe guideline to make sure that you need treatment for substance abuse are the tests administered by healthcare professionals. Much of the medical community uses the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-V) to determine if a person fits a criteria of someone suffering from addiction. This helps remove the subjectivity of understanding a patient’s condition while guiding them to treatment plans that work.

“Addiction is a choice that people make.”

Another popular misconception that contributes to the stigma associated with substance abuse is the thinking that addiction is a choice. From the surface, addiction appears like a choice, but in reality, it is not. The brain goes through many changes that drive people to take drugs or drink alcohol. Like any mental health disorders, there is a compulsion aspect to it–sufferers can’t help but to use substances because the body becomes biologically and psychologically dependent on it.

According to the Brain Disease Model of Addiction (BDMA), seeing substance abuse as a mental health illness rather than a choice led to better treatment outcomes and government policies. When people view addiction as a disease rather than a choice, it encourages them to seek help rather than to hide in shame.

“People who are addicted to prescription drugs are different from people addicted to illegal drugs.”

Within the sub-sphere of drug addiction, there are also myths that exist such as this one. Some people may feel better about their drug use because they aren’t abusing something that’s sold on the streets or engaging in other illegal activities.

On the contrary, many people should know that most prescription drugs have similar chemical components to illegal drugs such as street heroin. In a study published at the National Institute of Drug Abuse, prescription opioid use is a risk factor for eventual heroin use, because these substances belong to the same “opioid family”.

To give a better idea, opioid pharmacology shows us that the family of these substances react to any of the three opioid receptors in the brain. They produce similar effects, but only with varying intensities and mechanism of action. Once a person is hooked on any of these drugs and their components, they are still considered to have Substance Use Disorder (SUD) regardless if they retrieved their pills or packets from the pharmacy or the streets.

“I can control it.”

Many high-functioning people with drug or alcohol habits may be led to think that they can control their addictions. As previously mentioned, addiction is not a linear path–it is rather a downward spiral, evolving and progressing intensify and affect the lives of people they touch.

In fact, a study showed how crucial it is to find professional help even before addiction takes over a person’s life. Delaying treatment when they are still “functional” may seem like an easy way to manage, until some people eventually hit a brick wall or suffer dangerous consequences.

Some signs of a high-functioning addict include the following:

  • Isolation during free time. Someone who can still perform daily responsibilities may use their free time to engage in their drinking or drug use.
  • A noticeable change in behavior or personality. They may still show up at work, school, or do tasks at home, but they seem to have a gradual change in behavior. High-functioning people with substance abuse problems may appear to be more depressed, anxious, or aggressive in nature.
  • Health problems. These issues are related to their ongoing abuse. They may feel more fatigued, have frequent complaints about headaches, muscle pains, or experience flu-like episodes.

If you see these signs in yourself or a loved one, finding treatment is the best thing you can do. By nipping the problem at the bud, recovering from addiction will be a smoother and easier process.

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Debunking Addiction Misconceptions: Help Spread Awareness

There are many hindrances in getting help for substance abuse, but don’t let these misconceptions be one of them. Truly, knowledge is power when it comes to battling an addiction. By informing yourself, your family, friends, and other loved ones, they can take a closer step towards recovery.


Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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