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The Most Common Myths about Addiction



Friday, 28 July, 2017

By: Michelle Quilter, PsyD, CASAC

Frequently, individuals that struggle with addictive disorders battle societal stigma and array of misconceptions about addiction in general. The stigma surrounding addiction is a barrier seeking treatment for addiction. There is progress being made to reduce societal judgment and clarify the myths surrounding the disease of addiction. Unfortunately, this progress is happening slowly while psychiatric and substance abuse problems continue to rise dramatically and expediently throughout the nation.

As the Director of Dialectical Behavior Therapy at Lifeskills South Florida, I work with many clients in recovery from substance use disorder, and I see the negative role these myths play in a client’s endeavor to get sober and remain sober.  Recognizing these potential roadblocks for our clients will help us assist in seeing them for the myths they truly are.

Common Myths Regarding Addiction

  • “Addiction is voluntary, and addicts can stop drinking and abusing drugs whenever they want.” Addiction is a disease and based on the phenomenon of craving, once an individual with an addiction puts the substance into their body, they are unable to stop. The presentation of the substance in their body leads to an overwhelming craving for more. Addiction often co-occurs with other mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), etc. For successful addiction treatment, the co-occurring psychiatric disorder must be treated. Simply detoxing from substances and trying to abstain from use does not work long-term, because of the mental obsession that is characteristic of addiction. Despite the absence of the substance in the body, the individual experiences a constant mental obsession related to the substance use. Without proper treatment, the cognitive distortions that they experience as the result of the obsession lead to relapse.
  • “Maintaining a job and children means the addiction is not a problem.” Those struggling with addiction tend to experience a strong sense of denial, and the ability to keep a job and meet parental responsibilities with an addiction is “functioning.”  However, addiction is a chronic and progressive illness; the severity increases over time. Employment is often a priority because it provides the money to purchase drugs and alcohol. The feeling that everything is “good” aids in the denial, rationalization, and justifications. Also, the addict’s belief that they are meeting responsibilities plays into minimizing the illness.
  • “All addicts are criminals.” Many substances are illegal which has led society to assume that those who use them are deviants.  While there is certainly some correlation between criminality and drug dependence, many individuals addicted to drugs and alcohol are otherwise law abiding. Often, when those struggling with addiction are no longer able to financially support their habit with money from friends and family or their employer, they turn to crime. Addiction regularly controls all aspects of an individual’s life and alters the chemistry and functionality of the brain. The disease of addiction affects the functioning of the frontal lobes of the brain which leads to difficulty in appreciating consequences and difficulty in making decisions. Many factors combine to create the “perfect storm,” and many of those struggling experienced traumatic events and use substances a coping mechanism.  Familial genetics and the environment significantly affect the likelihood that one will develop an addiction.
  • “Relapse means treatment did not work.”   Despite the length of treatment completed, relapse rates are high for those struggling with a substance use disorder. Even when given the full continuum of care, relapse is a risk, and occurs when negative emotions trigger drug seeking behaviors. The majority of people that struggle with drug and alcohol addictions will relapse after leaving treatment. In fact, that number is sometimes as high as 80%, making addiction akin to other chronic disorders. Research shows that individuals are most susceptible to relapse in the first ninety days following treatment. Instead of seeing relapse as a failure,  it should be a sign that the original treatment plan simply needs an alteration. Altering the plan to include attending more 12-step meetings, learning to recognize and avoid relapse triggers better, increasing self-care activities such as exercise or yoga, or increasing social and sober support.
  • “No one can be forced into treatment.” In the state of Florida, individuals with a substance use disorder are subject to involuntary assessment and stabilization under the Marchman Act. Friends or family members can petition for a Marchman Act by completing paperwork and filing it with the county clerk’s office. The Sheriff’s office will then bring in the individual for an involuntary assessment. The Marchman Act can result in court ordered treatment of sixty-ninety days and can be extended if necessary.  Many county court systems are also offering individuals the opportunity to choose addiction treatment to avoid jail time. The external motivation of the Marchman Act and the legal system can aid individuals in realizing the severity of their substance abuse and can help in the realization of a needed change.
  • “Marijuana is not addictive.” Yes, marijuana is addictive. Most recreational marijuana users who try to stop taking the drug experience withdrawal symptoms. The legalization of marijuana in several U.S. states has led to the misconception that marijuana is a harmless drug. Although withdrawal symptoms are not as severe as with other substances, marijuana is still addictive. Many marijuana users view the drug as an escape from the complications of co-occurring psychiatric disorders such as depression or anxiety. Evidence suggests that the recreational use of marijuana can lead to the use of other drugs.
  • “Friends and family members cannot help addicts get better.” Addiction is a family disease that affects the entire family system and leads to dysfunctional family dynamics. A support system of family and friends is vital to an addict’s recovery.  For added help and to learn more about discussing addiction in the family system properly, friends and family members should attend support groups such as Al-Anon.
  • “You have to hit rock bottom to benefit from addiction treatment.” Hitting rock bottom refers to the experience of loss that leads to a willingness for change. Losses such as employment, relationships, housing, money, physical health and mental health will often help an individual decide to seek addiction treatment. Unfortunately, there is no concrete definition of rock bottom. Everyone has a different tolerance for pain. Therefore, having to hit a predefined rock bottom before receiving help from addiction treatment is a myth. To benefit from treatment, individuals need a moment of clarity in which they have a willingness to change and seek help. This moment of clarity can come as the result of one of the losses.
  • “Rehab is only available to those that can afford it.” Some drug treatment centers offer scholarships and discounted rates for treatment. Asking for financial assistance is the best option when unable to afford rehabilitation. Individuals under the age of 26 with no insurance are often able to use their parent’s insurance to finance treatment.

You are never alone, Lifeskills South Florida is here to help. As one of the premier drug rehabs in South Florida, we can you or your loved one regain hope and get your life back on track. We employ highly specialized clinicians that will help equip you with the life skills needed to become more independent and prepare you and your family for life after recovery. We currently offer five clinical tracks and each client receives their own individualized treatment plan. To learn more about our accredited residential and outpatient treatment programs, please contact us.

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