There are many myths about addiction and treatment but there are five in particular that are most pervasive – and harmful. Fortunately, society has come a long way in how we treat and view addicts but there’s still more that can be done to overcome biases. By shining a light on these misconceptions, we hope that you or someone you love will be encouraged to seek treatment and break the cycle of addiction.
Myth 1: Addiction Is A Choice
A common response to addiction is that it’s a choice and if addicts really wanted to quit, then they would do it. Addiction, however, is not that simple. Research has shown that addiction is a disease and often genetic. In a study from the University of Cambridge in England, researchers found that drug addicts and their non-addict siblings share the same brain abnormalities which suggest that brain differences are a cause of addiction, rather than an effect of drug use.
Even if you don’t have a genetic predisposition for addiction, long-term use of alcohol or drugs can change your brain’s chemistry and basic functions. There is no single factor that can determine whether or not someone using drugs or alcohol will become addicted to them. It’s a mixture of biology, environmental and social factors, trauma, and even gender and ethnicity.
Myth 2: Addiction Treatment Has To Be Voluntary To Be Successful
While it would be great if more people sought treatment because they wanted to rather than had to, it’s not the reality we live in. The good news is that even involuntary or mandatory treatment can be successful. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, legal pressure can increase treatment attendance and improve retention. Other external forces like family and employment can also significantly increase treatment entry, retention rates, and the success of treatment interventions.
On the other hand, having an external pressure to seek treatment doesn’t mean it’s the only way to motivate addicts. There are evidence-based practices that increase motivation for changing behavior such as Motivational Interviewing and Motivational Enhancement Therapy. These motivational interventions help individuals recognize that uncertainty about changing their behavior is normal, while also helping them harness their strengths to do so.
Myth 3: If You Can Hold A Job, You’re Not An Addict
Addiction and employment may seem incompatible but many addicts are able to hold a job because they need the income to keep paying for their drugs and alcohol. According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health report, although the rate of current illicit drug use was higher among unemployed persons in 2013 than it was among those who were employed full time, employed part-time, or in the “other” employment category, most of these users were employed. Of the 22.4 million current illicit drug users aged 18 or older in 2013, 15.4 million (68.9 percent) were employed either full or part-time.
Although “high-functioning addicts” may be able to keep up appearances, enjoy professional success, or maintain active social lives, it doesn’t mean that their addiction is less severe or harmful. Since they’re so good at masking their struggles and covering their tracks, loved ones often aren’t aware of a problem until it’s too late.
Myth 4: You Need To “Hit Rock Bottom” Before Getting Help
“Hitting rock bottom” is the idea that when people reach their personal worst, such as loss of job, family, friends, or home, the experience will convince them to change their lives. While for some people this may be true, it’s by no means universal. The problem with this idea is that there are many addicts who don’t hit rock bottom yet they’ve been able to quit their addiction and maintain sobriety.
Using this concept as the foundation for treatment is ill-advised and can even be dangerous. For example, there have been cases in the past where treatment programs would cut off addicts from loved ones, or in some egregious cases, humiliate and degrade the addict in an effort to break them so they’ll be more willing to change. Ultimately, this only caused unnecessary harm with little to no results to show for it.
Myth 5: Alcohol and Drug Rehab Doesn’t Work
Like other chronic diseases, treatment for drug addiction usually isn’t a cure but the disease can be managed successfully. According to research, most people who get into and remain in treatment stop using drugs, decrease their criminal activity, and improve their occupational, social, and psychological functioning. The chronic nature of addiction, however, means that relapsing isn’t only possible but also likely. In fact, relapse rates for addiction are similar to those for other well-characterized chronic medical illnesses – such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma – that also have both physiological and behavioral components.
Relapse can make it seem like treatment has failed but this isn’t true. Successful addiction treatment typically requires continual evaluation and modification as appropriate, similar to the approach taken for other chronic diseases. That’s why Rally Point uses a multi-faceted approach to treat addiction to give individuals the best chance at recovery: group sessions with peers with a variety of topics, individual therapy sessions with highly credentialed staff, 12-step meetings, and support and integration into the local recovery community.
Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment Information
Now that you have a clearer understanding of the myths about addiction and treatment, you may be wondering what steps you should take next. If you’re seeking treatment options, check out our tips on choosing the right rehab center. We explain what you should look for in a treatment provider and questions to ask so you’re able to find one that best fits your needs. For more information on addiction treatment, check out our addiction help articles or call our 24/7 confidential drug and alcohol addiction hotline at 1-888-797-2559 if you have any questions.