Addiction is a hot topic for discussion and it’s ripe with misinformation and myths. It is a highly charged topic and many tend to have strong opinions about it, even if it has not affected them personally. These myths create stigmas about substance abuse that make it difficult for people to seek help. Common misconceptions about addiction and the character of a person can make it difficult for someone to willingly ask for help. Many would rather lie and struggle with addiction in silence than face the judgment of their friends, co-workers, family, and loved ones. It is time that we work on breaking the stigma of addiction and addiction recovery.
Myths & Truths About Addiction: Common Misconceptions about Addiction
It is impossible to list every myth surrounding addiction, but there are several common themes that often surface in conversations. Some of these include:
Myth #1: Those with an addiction can stop at any time.
One of the most common misconceptions about substance abuse is that it is an active, conscious choice that can be stopped at any time. Some may describe it as choosing drugs over something else, and if they really cared, they would just stop. There is a notion that a person with an addiction wants to live that life and chooses it over everything else.
The Truth: This view of addiction ignores the scientific evidence that addiction is a disease.
Over time, many become dependent on drugs or alcohol to feel “normal”, and they often experience varying extremes of physical or mental pain when use stops. Withdrawal symptoms can be incredibly uncomfortable, and in some cases, dangerous. The experience of withdrawal symptoms alone can perpetuate addiction.
Myth #2: Addiction indicates a moral failure.
Many people make assumptions about a person’s character or morality when they have an addiction. While it is true in some cases that a person may choose to experiment with a substance, it does not mean that they actively chose to struggle with addiction.
The Truth: Addiction can develop for numerous reasons.
There are many people who can use multiple substances and never develop an addiction, while others can use a substance only once and quickly spiral out of control. The potential for addiction is often made up of numerous factors including genetic predisposition, environmental factors, psychological disorders, and upbringing. While initial use may be a choice, over time, continued use can make changes in the brain that make it difficult to stop. This is why relapse is common and many will need multiple attempts at recovery before it is successful.
Myth #3: Only specific types of drugs are dangerous.
Especially in recent years, there is a common misconception that only “hard” drugs are dangerous. Prescription medication, alcohol, and marijuana are often categorized as “safer to use” because of legalization and normalization of use. Hard drugs tend to carry heavier social stigmas, while other substances may get a pass.
The Truth: Any substance can potentially lead to addiction, even if it has a lower risk of addiction compared to others.
These substances can still impair judgement and bring about numerous unwanted physical and mental side effects. Depression, anxiety, and psychosis can all develop as a result of misuse, and substances like alcohol are responsible for more deaths in the United States than almost anything else.
Myth #4 Addiction is easy to identify.
Many believe that addiction fits a mold. The stereotype surrounding addiction usually includes features such as being a young male minority from a low socio-economic background. They are usually imagined as being unemployed and involved in criminal activity.
The Truth: Addiction does not have a specific face, and in fact, those who are most frequently affected by addiction do not fit the stereotype at all.
Substance abuse exists everywhere regardless of race, gender, age, or socio-economic status. The recent opioid epidemic has highlighted this more than ever. Older, white, middle-class adults are the face of the opioid epidemic, with many graduating to heroin abuse. In almost every aspect, this latest epidemic opposes the stereotype of addiction.
Myth #5 Relapse makes you a failure.
Another commonly perpetuated myth is that if a person relapses, it’s because they did not try hard enough or they were not committed to sobriety.
The Truth: Addiction changes everything. It rewires the brain and can have long-last effects on the way a person interacts with the world.
Overcoming addiction is not an easy task, and it often takes multiple tries before it is successful. Relapse can make a person feel shame, guilt, and hopelessness about their situation, which may make it more difficult for them to seek help again. For many, relapse is a normal part of the recovery process. There is no starting over at square one. Exploring different treatment options and making changes to support sobriety may be needed in order to be successful.
Why Breaking the Stigma is So Important
Stigmas around substance abuse serve no positive purpose. They largely spread misinformation while simultaneously discouraging people from seeking the help they desperately need. Stigmas span far beyond a person’s personal social circle. Visit any news article or blog topic about addiction and see what the comments section says—it is typically riddled with emotionally charged, often callous remarks about people with addiction. While entering treatment may seem like the obvious action to take, it’s easy to see why a person may hesitate in acknowledging the issue by seeking help.
Breaking the Stigma: How to Address the Myths about Addiction
There is no way to fully eradicate the myths surrounding substance abuse, but there are ways to combat them in a productive way.
- Talk about it: It can be uncomfortable to directly take on myths in conversation, but it is important. Talking about the stigmas surrounding addiction can shed light on the reality and open the door for important conversations to take place.
- Share experiences: While it can be difficult to be vulnerable, sharing experiences can be eye-opening. Addiction can often be a faceless topic which can create a degree of separation that makes it difficult for some to understand or empathize. By connecting a real person to the discussion, it can help others see the person rather than the addiction.
- Show empathy: One of the biggest reasons it is so difficult to discuss addiction is because those who struggle with it fear judgement. Listening carefully without judgement to the experiences of others can create a safe space to discuss sensitive topics and may serve as a motivational force in their recovery process.
- Call it out: If you hear or see stigmas surfacing, speak out. This is incredibly visible on social media platforms. Images, quotes, discussions, and articles often appear with many offering opinions that have little to no factual foundation. Taking the opportunity to discuss these topics can help others become more aware of how their attitudes can negatively impact the motivation of others and actually hurt the situation.
Do you know someone struggling with substance abuse or recovery?
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