If we’ve learned anything in the last year and a half, it’s that separating fact from fiction can save lives. Reliable and credible sources of information matter. That’s why we’re always prioritizing accuracy and aiming to dispel the myths that surround substance use and its treatment.
Right now, let’s look at four of those myths and change the way you see them.
Myths about addiction tend to come from a place of misinformed beliefs about how addiction really works. Some of the more common myths associated with addiction include addiction being a choice, those with addiction have to want treatment for it to work, treatment must work the first time, and addiction is a character flaw only for bad people.
These myths can lead to more self-destructive behaviors in people with substance use disorders. They can also color the judgment of people who could be serving in roles of support. It’s essential to get the facts about substance use and understand how treatment is a valuable first step in achieving and sustaining sobriety.
Four Myths about Addiction
There are numerous myths about substance use disorders that we could spotlight here. We’ve chosen four to focus on right now. For each one, we’ll look at what’s perpetuating this type of thinking and explain what makes it a belief unworthy of holding onto in life.
1. Addiction is a choice.
This belief is about blaming an individual for becoming dependent on substances. It maintains that anyone living with an SUD must have made a choice to become addicted. It ignores the complex factors that can contribute to drug or alcohol use. It’s a very black-and-white way to look at the problem and can lead to more self-destructive behavior.
A series of choices can initially lead to someone developing a problem with drugs or alcohol. But, addiction itself is not a choice. People don’t choose to become dependent on substances, and they don’t continue to choose drug use after addiction has taken hold. In fact, the area of the brain responsible for decision making is actually impaired by the time addiction is in play.
Willpower cannot solve the addiction problem.
It is important that both the person with a substance use disorder and those around them understand that there will not come a time when the addicted person will muster enough willpower to become sober. They cannot simply choose to stop drinking, because their brains are highly impaired. They can, however, choose professional help and the path of recovery. Once a wellness plan is established, the person becomes responsible for their recovery, and escape from addiction is possible.
When talking to friends, family, or colleagues about your drinking or drug problem, be aware that some of them might believe addiction is a choice. Your future health and wellness depends on your understanding of how addiction truly works. Then, you can make choices to seek treatment based on facts, not fiction.
2. Those with addiction need to want treatment for it to work.
This belief is about reinforcing a specific state of mind as the only way to take steps towards sobriety. Without identifying treatment as the solution first and being invested in it, it can’t possibly work, according to this myth. Resistance to treatment is seen as a factor for its failure in this scenario.
This myth may be a disruptor in many people seeking the treatment they need to get sober. By believing they need to want treatment to work, they’re putting a greater burden on themselves up front. They may unfairly judge their views of treatment and become more critical of anyone who recommends it.
People actually recover as a result of interventions all of the time.
Research shows that people in various stages of change can benefit from treatment. In order words, we know that treatment works even for those who are not thrilled to go to treatment in the first place. Oftentimes, treatment-resistant people are able to find the recovery they need if they can be confronted with the reality of their illness and if those around them can maintain appropriate boundaries. Family members will find that interventions can be successful, even if their loved ones do not appear open to change at the beginning.
In treatment, a person with an SUD can focus on how to redesign their life with healthier goals in mind. They can learn to want to protect their progress towards these goals over time even if they were resistant to receiving treatment from the start. Through the repetition of working on sober goals and applying new learned strategies to their lives, they can begin to see the benefits of sober living showing up every day.
3. Treatment must work the first time.
This false, stigmatizing belief is condemns failures or slips of any kind. If treatment doesn’t work right away, a client is somehow not doing enough or not equipped for sobriety. This myth ignores the complexity of both a diagnosis and the long-term work required to stay sober.
Often, people do not recovery because they have been given insufficient care for the level of challenges they are facing.
Many treatment programs offer a one size fits all approach that does not take the individual’s strengths and challenges into account. For example, treatment of a heroin problem in a person with undiagnosed trauma might make sobriety unsustainable beyond the treatment program. A lack of family support during and after treatment may be another factor to consider.
Continuing care is often overlooked in treatment planning.
Residential treatment is an important step in starting a recovery process, of course. At the same time, the rest of the process should be part of a client’s planning. A program can be followed up with numerous resources to make sobriety more sustainable for an individual. That’s why it becomes a priority to discuss these resources with your treatment team early and often through your stay.
The nature of your substance use and presence of any co-occurring mental health disorders should be a significant part of your long-term sober goals. That could look like transitioning from an inclient stay to an intensive outclient program. Continuing care that’s customized to your specific needs is critical for your success.
4. Addiction is a character flaw only for bad people.
This belief, like the first myth we mentioned, is about blaming the individual for their substance use disorder. It leaves no room for all the factors that may contribute to a person’s SUD. It also supports a destructive way of looking at people as either good or bad.
This simplified way of looking at addiction tends to generate more self-destructive behaviors in people. Someone who thinks their drinking or drug use is a part of a character flaw may be less inclined to see it as a legitimate problem that can be addressed in healthy ways. If they accept this myth as true, they may only blame themselves every time they drink or use drugs. Also, they may accept no responsibility with the belief that they’re destined to harm themselves and endure the pain that comes with addiction.
The idea that addiction is the result of a moral failing is outdated and unhelpful during recovery.
Reducing substance use to a character flaw is easy. Taking the time to develop healthy coping skills, uncover emotional triggers, and work on past trauma demands more from you—and it takes courage. It involves becoming mindful of your choices and the impact they have on you. It requires being truthful about your mental health and the needs you may have been ignoring.
When we stop blaming ourselves for our addiction, and instead begin to take responsibility for our recovery, we dismantle the shame that keeps addiction alive. Accepting the reality of your situation, however negative, doesn’t make you a “bad” person. It simply reminds you that, like every other human, you have needs that now need to be prioritized. As people who believe in recovery, we know that all people deserve to feel happy, joyous, and free, regardless of where addiction led them.
HeadWaters at Headwaters is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration.
We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety.
For information on our programs, call us today: 561-270-1753.