Drug addiction is terrifying. Abuse and addiction can ruin careers, relationships, and entire lives. In 2016, over 63,600 people died of a drug overdose — and experts say that the numbers for 2107 are likely to be even worse.
It’s one thing to read these statistics. It’s an entirely different matter when someone you love is struggling to stop using. How can you help them? The first step is to educate yourself with our list of the most common myths about addiction.
7 Myths About Addiction That Can Hinder Recovery
It’s true that recovery starts with the addict. No one can force a user to face her problems unless and until she’s ready. Yet the emotional support of friends and family members can be invaluable during the recovery process. Here are some myths that still exist, and the corresponding facts for each.
Addiction Doesn’t Strike in the Suburbs
The idea that drug use only affects inner cities has never held true. Addiction knows no boundaries. It can strike a suburban mother of two as easily it can a rural teenager or an unemployed blue-collar worker.
In fact, a recent Pew Research study found that 90% of rural residents, 87% or city dwellers, and 86% of people in suburban areas see drug addiction as a problem in their community.
An Addict Can’t Hold Down a Job or Cope with College
Similarly, the notion that drug addicts are down-and-out losers or low-lifes doesn’t reflect the truth, either. An addiction may lead someone to drop out of school or get fired from his job. However, there are millions of people who deal with addiction and still make it to classes or succeed at work.
In the movies, it doesn’t take very long for someone who has tried heroin, cocaine, or a prescription narcotic to spiral downwards. These fictional characters quickly end up living on the street or turning to prostitution to support their habit. The reality is that high-functioning addicts keep their drug use under wraps and continue to be upstanding citizens.
It’s a Matter of Willpower
Addiction arises from a number of factors, including environmental catalysts, biochemistry, and emotional issues. Plenty of scientific evidence shows that long-term drug use fundamentally alters the human brain, hijacking it in a feedback loop that can be difficult to escape.
Telling a loved one that he only has to try harder to beat his habit isn’t helpful. Sure, some people have white-knuckled their way to sobriety, but most people need help.
There are many tools that will go into your loved one’s toolkit as she travels the path from addiction to a new, sober lifestyle. Sheer willpower may be one of them, but others can be more effective.
To Quit, You Have to Let Go and Let God
One of the main tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous and its offshoots, like Narcotics Anonymous, is that the addict must surrender himself to a higher power, like God. These 12-step programs are one way to recover from addiction, but not the only way.
It’s not necessary for a recovering addict to find Jesus or be reborn. Many people do better with treatment programs that give them agency over their own addiction. Mindfulness-based rehabilitation, for example, teaches practical ways to deal with cravings as they arise. It also shows addicted individuals that acceptance can come from within, rather than from a deity or faith.
If a Drug Has Been Prescribed, It’s Safe
Certain myths about addiction are falling by the wayside, and this is one of them. In recent years, an opioid epidemic has wreaked havoc across the nation. Some 80% of heroin users, in fact, were first addicted to prescription painkillers like Fentanyl, OxyContin, and Vicodin.
Pain medications have an important role to play in modern medicine, but must be prescribed carefully. Consumers need to know how slippery the slope from prescription drug use to street drug use can be. Shining light on opioid abuse is important, to make sure that this myth never regains its foothold on the American psyche.
Only Certain Substances Are Addictive
A doctor’s prescription and pharmacist’s blessing won’t stop addiction from happening, and neither will legalizing certain drugs. Again, medical marijuana has helped millions of people to live pain- and symptom-free — but any drug that affects the brain has the potential for abuse and addiction.
Alcohol and marijuana may be more socially acceptable than “hard drugs” like crystal meth or LSD, but they are addictive nevertheless. Learn about the difference between social drinking and alcoholism.
Relapsing Means That You Have Failed
It is an incredible feeling to go through detox and rehab and feel ready to conquer the world as a newly sober person. If you are supporting a friend or family member who has accomplished this goal, you are understandably proud of them.
Unfortunately, relapses do happen. Think of recovery like mastering a sport — you might not be a natural. You might fall, and fall again. But remember that falling isn’t failing; it’s an important teacher on the path to success.
As long as you pick yourself up and try again, you are succeeding. This is true whether you’re learning how to ice skate or discovering how to live without drugs.
It takes courage to check oneself into a treatment facility. In some ways, it takes more courage to leave that facility and learn the fundamentals of sobriety in everyday life. Give your friend or family member all the credit she deserves for taking steps to defeat addiction.
If your loved one relapses, don’t despair. Stand by and offer the same level of support you offered the first time around.
Sadly, these are just a few of the myths about addiction that persist in people’s minds. Understanding the truth about heroin, alcohol, and other addictive substances is crucial to helping someone you love on their journey to recovery.
Paramount Recovery Center is here as an additional source of support. Contact us with any questions you have about the detox and rehab process, or to begin the process of seeking sobriety for yourself.