Myth #1: Drug addiction is voluntary behavior.
Fact: The only voluntary part of drug addiction is a decision to start using drugs in the first place. However, as a person’s use of drugs continues, his or her ability to avoid using drugs diminishes dramatically. He or she changes from a voluntary drug user into a compulsive drug user. Over time, drug use changes the way a person’s brain chemistry works. Sometimes these changes are subtle, and other times they are more dramatic, but drug use always affects how person’s brain functions. The end result is that a person becomes a compulsive drug user and is often unable to stop using without professional help.
Myth #2: Drug addiction is a character flaw.
Fact: Drug addiction is a disease of the brain. People who are addicted to drugs do not simply lack willpower. Instead, they are experiencing a disease that prevents them from being able to abstain from drug use without help. In fact, some recovering drug users have compared using drugs to breathing, saying the compulsion to use is so strong that trying to stop using is like trying to stop breathing. Although certain character traits, such as impulsivity and a desire for novel experiences, have been linked with an increased risk of drug abuse, it is inaccurate to say that drug addiction is a character flaw.
Myth #3: There is one treatment that works with all types of addiction.
Fact: Because every person is different, every person’s struggle with drug abuse will look different. As a result, there is no one solution or treatment that works with every type of addiction. Even people who are addicted to the same drug may require different types of treatment. For example, while individual therapy may be effective for one person, another individual may need the additional peer support found in groups. Some people may need residential treatment, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and traditional outpatient services, while someone else may only need individual therapy and regular AA meetings. Although the process of becoming addicted to a drug is relatively consistent between individuals, different treatments affect individuals differently and can be more or less effective depending on factors unique to each person. Having multiple methods for treating addiction is necessary in order to ensure that all affected individuals receive the types of treatment that they need.
Myth #4: Treatment does not work.
Fact: Treatment can and does help people. Studies cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse have found that treatment can reduce drug use by 40% to 60%. In addition, the treatment can also reduce crime by 40% to 60%, and it can increase prospects for employment by 40%. In addition, this research also found that drug addiction treatment can reduce the risk of contracting HIV. Treatment works. However, many people see drug treatment as a “revolving door” where people continually enter and leave treatment without ever achieving long-term success. It is true that treatment might not work the first time every time, but with patience, determination, and effective professional care, many people are able to overcome drug addictions.
Myth #5: If treatment does not work the first time, you should stop seeking treatment since you are just wasting your money.
Fact: While it is true that substance abuse treatment can be expensive, the cost of not seeking treatment is far more expensive. Without proper care, individuals are at risk of losing their jobs, experiencing financial ruin, losing relationships, and even losing their lives. Furthermore, many people require multiple different types of care. Sometimes people require multiple stays in a residential program, or need to experiment with partial hospitalization treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, traditional outpatient treatment, AA/NA and other groups, or some combination of all of these, before they begin to overcome a drug addiction.
The need for multiple stays reflects the intense, chronic nature of a drug addiction. It can take time to figure out which types of treatment work best for each individual. Unfortunately, this process can involve a fair amount of trial and error, but that does not mean that treatment will not be helpful for the person.
Myth #6: Once a person completes treatment, he or she will never use drugs again.
Fact: Many people who complete treatment are able to live sober lives. However, addiction is a chronic disease, like diabetes, and just like diabetes, it will require a lifetime of care. If a person with diabetes carefully tracks his or her blood sugar, makes good changes to his or her diet, and keeps up with insulin injections, that person is likely to keep the symptoms of his or her diabetes mostly at bay. Similarly, if a person recovering from drug abuse makes use of the skills that he or she develops during treatment and stays connected with sources of support, such as groups, AA/NA meetings, and other treatments, he or she has a much better chance of lifelong sobriety.
Myth #7: You have to want drug treatment for it to be effective.
Fact: Virtually no one wants drug treatment. Two of the primary reasons people seek drug treatment are because the court ordered them to do so, or because loved ones urged them to seek treatment. Many scientific studies have shown convincingly that those who enter drug treatment programs in which they face “high pressure” to confront and attempt to surmount their addiction do comparatively better in treatment, regardless of the reason they sought treatment in the first place.
Myth #8: Treatment for drug addiction should be a one-shot deal.
Fact: Like many other illnesses, drug addiction typically is a chronic disorder. To be sure, some people can quit drug use “cold turkey,” or they can quit after receiving treatment just one time at a rehabilitation facility. But most of those who abuse drugs require longer-term treatment and, in many instances, repeated treatments.
Myth #9: We should strive to find a “magic bullet” to treat all forms of drug abuse.
Fact: There is no “one size fits all” form of drug treatment, much less a magic bullet that suddenly will cure addiction. Different people have different drug abuse-related problems. And they respond very differently to similar forms of treatment, even when they’re abusing the same drug. As a result, drug addicts need an array of treatments and services tailored to address their unique needs.
Myth #10: People don’t need treatment. They can stop using drugs if they really want to.
Fact: It is extremely difficult for people addicted to drugs to achieve and maintain long-term abstinence. Research shows long-term drug use actually changes a person’s brain function, causing them to crave the drug even more, making it increasingly difficult for the person to quit. Especially for adolescents, intervening and stopping substance abuse early is important, as children become addicted to drugs much faster than adults and risk greater physical, mental and psychological harm from illicit drug use.
Myth #11: Nobody will voluntarily seek treatment until they hit ‘rock bottom.’
Fact: There are many things that can motivate a person to enter and complete substance abuse treatment before they hit “rock bottom.” Pressure from family members and employers, as well as personal recognition that they have a problem, can be powerful motivating factors for individuals to seek treatment. For teens, parents and school administrators are often driving forces in getting them into treatment once problems at home or in school develop but before situations become dire. Seventeen percent of adolescents entering treatment in 1999 were self- or individual referrals, while 11 percent were referred through schools.
Myth #12: You can’t force someone into treatment.
Fact: Treatment does not have to be voluntary. People coerced into treatment by the legal system can be just as successful as those who enter treatment voluntarily. Sometimes they do better, as they are more likely to remain in treatment longer and to complete the program. In 1999, over half of adolescents admitted into treatment were directed to do so by the criminal justice system.
Myth #13: If you’ve tried one doctor or treatment program, you’ve tried them all.
Fact: Not every doctor or program may be the right fit for someone seeking treatment.
For many, finding an approach that is personally effective for treating their addiction can mean trying out several different doctors and/or treatment centers before a perfect “match” is found between patient and program.
Myth #14: People can successfully finish drug abuse treatment in a couple of weeks if they’re truly motivated.
Fact: Research indicates a minimum of 90 days of treatment for residential and outpatient drug-free programs, and 21 days for short-term inpatient programs to have an effect. To maintain the treatment effect, follow up supervision and support are essential. In all recovery programs the best predictor of success is the length of treatment. Patients who remain at least a year are more than twice as likely to remain drug free, and a recent study showed adolescents who met or exceeded the minimum treatment time were over one and a half times more likely to abstain from drug and alcohol use 4 However, completing a treatment program is merely the first step in the struggle for recovery that can extend throughout a person’s entire lifetime.
Myth #15: People who continue to abuse drugs after treatment are hopeless.
Fact: Drug addiction is a chronic disorder; occasional relapse does not mean failure.
Psychological stress from work or family problems, social cues (i.e. meeting individuals from one’s drug-using past), or their environment (i.e. encountering streets, objects, or even smells associated with drug use) can easily trigger a relapse. Addicts are most vulnerable to drug use during the few months immediately following their release from treatment. Children are especially at risk for relapse when forced to return to family and environmental situations that initially led them to abuse substances. Recovery is a long process and frequently requires multiple treatment attempts before complete and consistent sobriety can be achieved.