There are lots of common myths about addiction and treatment and they can be very harmful. They can fuel feelings of guilt, shame and helplessness; can stop people from seeking the support they may need, and can be very damaging to those coping with addiction.
Here we take a look at some of the most common myths and the truth behind them.
No, addiction is not a choice. It’s a chronic brain disease and it can affect anybody. Moreover, addiction changes how your brain handles rewards and motivation, so addictive behaviours take precedence over healthy behaviours.
Addiction also changes a person’s impulse control which can cause them to pathologically pursue rewards even when they no longer enjoy the object of their addiction, whatever that may be.
Addiction can ruin people’s lives; not just the addict’s but the lives of those around them. It can have major impacts on health (both physically and mentally), finances and relationships, to name a few.
Nobody would choose to become an addict and risk ruin; it is not a choice.
This one is half true because addiction IS a disease, it is a chronic disease of the brain, but it CAN be treated with therapy and support.
Stopping an addiction is not easy; as mentioned above, addiction changes how the brain functions to prioritise feeding the addiction, causing cravings and hunger for the addictive substance.
There is a range of treatments available to help deal with addiction, including talking therapies, treatment with medicines, detoxification, rehabilitation centres, support groups and reducing the harm brought about by addiction (i.e. treating any problems brought about by using dirty needles to inject).
Many treatment plans will include a variety of these methods to help overcome an individual’s addiction and will depend on the nature of their addiction.
Addiction can affect anybody, regardless of a person’s age, gender, ethnicity, social standing, income or family; anybody can become an addict.
While addiction can affect anybody, there are some groups that are more susceptible. Children of addicts are more likely to be addicts themselves and this can develop as a result of genetic predisposition or environmental factors.
Frequent exposure to a substance can also cause addiction simply through the person having the opportunity to “experiment” with the substance and becoming addicted before they realise it.
Prescription drugs can be just as addictive as street drugs. Prescription drugs are often used to numb pain or to enhance focus and consumers of these drugs can become addicted to the benefits they bring, and in so doing become addicted to the drugs themselves.
Many people say you can’t get addicted to certain substances, such as marijuana, but addiction is about the brain’s underlying neurology, not external behaviour. Certain substances are more addictive than others, such as cocaine, heroin, alcohol and nicotine, and these substances can be very damaging to the body, but even caffeine and sugar can trigger addictive habits.
While relapse is a genuine concern, it does not mean failure. The road to recovery is not easy and many addicts relapse along their journey; while it is something to avoid, it’s not anything to feel shameful about.
An addiction is a disease, not a character fault, and a relapse is not a sign of individual failure.
Addiction has long been seen as a moral failing but society increasingly understands it (correctly) as a disease, and overcoming an addiction should be seen in the same way as a person battling any other kind of illness.
One of the common myths about addiction is similar to the one above is that all you need to beat an addiction is willpower.
Willpower alone isn’t enough to battle addiction, addicts need the support of therapies discussed above.
This is a particularly damaging myth because it makes people think they can’t afford the help they may need.
Rehab costs can vary depending on the kind of support that an individual addict needs, the extent of their addiction and how long support is needed, as well as the rehabilitation centre itself.
This myth coupled with the one above can make people feel helpless against addiction because they think they cannot afford the only way to get support, and both of these are simply not true.
Beyond rehabilitation centres, addicts can find help and support through talking therapies, support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, detoxing and treatment with medicines. Often it is a combination of these treatments that help addicts recover.
Some people believe that rehab doesn’t work, instead preferring to tackle the problem on their own. Media coverage of celebrities who have relapsed after being in rehabilitation centres is a big cause of this myth.
Rehab success rates in the UK can be as high as 60-80%, with an average of around 47%. Success comes down to the quality of the rehabilitation centre and the commitment of the individual.
Relapsing is unfortunately a reality of recovery for many addicts, but that does not mean that treatment will not work.
Changing the mix of treatments can prove to be more successful, and even a second ‘dose’ of the initial treatment can help someone get back on track.
To compare addiction to cancer, one round of chemotherapy may not be successful but a second round can be.
While detoxing is helpful in cleansing the body of the addictive substance, it does not resolve the cause issue of the addiction. Detoxing often results in withdrawal symptoms, particularly if the person has been using an addictive substance for a long time, and it is best to do this in a recovery centre so that trained staff can monitor your progress.
Clearing the body can help you to get sober, but staying sober is a different matter and requires additional forms of treatment, as outlined above.
Recovery from addiction has to be done with an open mind and the person needs to want to recover. While this is true, this shouldn’t stop someone who may not feel the need for treatment (or feel ready for it) from being encouraged to undertake treatment by their friends, family, workplace or even the legal system. Once the recovery process begins, the addict is able to think more clearly and this new perspective can help them see a new life away from addiction.
Another one of the common myths about addiction that simply isn’t true. Not every recovering addict hits “rock bottom” before starting their recovery process. They may see other people further along in their own addiction as a “wake-up call”, or they may be encouraged by loved ones to seek help for their addiction, either through a quiet conversation or an intervention.
There are many points when someone may want to get help with an addiction and the journey will be different for everyone. The truth is, the earlier someone is in their addiction, the easier the recovery will be, so it’s best not to wait until reaching “rock bottom”.
While it may feel counterintuitive to use medication to help treat an addiction to substances, the medicine can help as a stepping stone from more harmful substances and are easier for the addict to come off of.
Particularly when combined with rehabilitation centres, where there are trained professionals who can safely wean patients off of medication, these treatments can be very effective.
Addiction is different for each person and so is their recovery journey – some are able to heal and recover quickly while others may struggle.
Effective treatment will give the person the tools and knowledge to manage their addictive tendencies, ending a person’s dependence on addictive substances and helping them to lead healthy lives.
If you, or someone you know, are struggling with addiction, get in touch to find out how ANA Treatment Centres can help.