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.