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People who have been associated with addiction and recovery in some form, whether struggling with an addiction themselves, knowing someone who struggles with an addiction, or working/volunteering in the field have become accustomed to the numerous myths that are present about addiction. Unfortunately, the myths do have a significant impact upon those associated with addiction and recovery. Therefore, it is important to be aware of them, in order to help decrease stigma and judgment overall.
Below are some common myths about addiction to help differentiate between what is true and what is not:
Simply put: drugs/alcohol basically hijack the brain. Recovery often isn’t as simple as exercising willpower. Genetics, environmental factors, upbringing and peer influence all increase the risk of addiction. Once an individual starts using drugs the structure and the function of the brain changes making it difficult to control impulses. Often leading to individuals choosing their addiction over most everything, even eating or sleeping. It’s important to remember once a person is in active addiction, the choice and decision-making process is significantly impaired compared to when sober.
There is a common misconception in addiction that the addict must not care enough about their life, their loved ones, or their future enough to stop using. However, similar to above it is not about caring or not caring rather it is a major biological and psychological process working against what they do care about. Often times the dependence on their drug of choice takes precedent over loves one, this can, in fact, be a warning sign of addiction.
This myth is deadly, as many people die before they hit a bottom. The last thing one should do is wait for an addict to hit rock bottom, rather everything should be done to get them into treatment. Addicts themselves are often told they must hit rock bottom, but the truth is entering treatment can change their life regardless of what point they are at in their journey.
As mentioned before, once a person is actively in addiction, just stopping is extremely difficult. Their brains have been altered so the new ‘normal’ is the presence of drugs. Dependence exists, not a choice, with biological roots; therefore, the addiction must be treated. The right circumstances must be present for a person to stop using such as; being ready to change, going through medical detox, actively participating in treatment programs or support groups.
The term “functional alcoholic/addict” has become a popular term for this myth. People assume a person who is still working or managing responsibilities while using substances is not technically struggling with addiction, otherwise they would be unable to maintain those responsibilities. However, the truth is people can still be struggling with an addiction while seemingly living rather ‘normal’ or productive lives. However, the person typically remains ‘functioning’ until they cannot function anymore. It’s not uncommon as tolerance and dependence builds that addiction begins to affect core areas of one’s life.
Author: Natalie Woulf, MA, LPC, CADC – Footprints to Recovery – Utilization Review Specialist