Myths about substance abuse are about as widespread as substance abuse itself. Stereotypes and ignorance fuels misunderstanding and misinformation. Below are some of the most common myths about substance abuse.
“Substance Abuse is a Choice”
It is very difficult for drug addicts to maintain long-term abstinence because long-term drug use changes the brain and body. That is, there is deep, biochemical conditioning that causes drug users to continually crave more drugs. Drugs are complex chemicals that interfere with the brain’s communication system and change how nerve cells behave. Drugs often overstimulate pleasure and imitate organic chemical messengers. Drugs increase the amount of neurotransmitters called dopamine, which causes pleasure and euphoria. Chronic drug use results in reduced dopamine levels. This means the drug user must increase their dosage, which results in increased addiction.
“Addicts are Just Bad People”
Most addicts are actually good people acting badly. Substance addiction is a universal affliction and disease that victimizes every age, ethnicity and gender. The National Institute of Health’s 2012 National Survey of Drug Use and Health revealed shocking statistics about substance abuse. The report showed that “an estimated 23.9 million Americans aged 12 or older, or 9.2 percent of the population, had used an illicit drug or abused a medication in the past month. This is up from 8.3 percent in 2002.” Drugs don’t discriminate, but people do.
“People Who Relapse After Treatment are Hopeless”
As mentioned above, chronic drug use damages the brain and body in ways that are difficult to recover from. Drugs create deep cravings which may haunt a person their entire life. Therefore, occasional relapse does not mean the person is hopeless or a failure. In fact, recovering drug users are most vulnerable the first few months after finishing treatment. They often return home and may be exposed to people and places that encouraged their drug use in the first place. People who abuse drugs often struggle with anxiety, depression and frustration. If they have poor coping skills and social support, then successfully completing a treatment program is only partially helpful.
“All You Need to Quit is Detox”
Successfully quitting and maintaining sobriety is a lifelong process. Current research indicates that 90 days of residential and outpatient treatment is the bare minimum. Afterwards, follow-up supervision and support is essential for success. Keep in mind that each physician or program has their own approach, which may not work for everyone. Sometimes it is necessary to try out a few different types of programs before the right fit can be found. Regardless of the program, patients who finish at least one year are twice as likely to remain drug free.
Getting into inpatient treatment can be a costly, timely and difficult process. Treatment facilities are crowded and there are sometimes wait lists. The National Institute of Health reported that in 2009 “23.5 million persons aged 12 or older needed treatment for an illicit drug problem…only 2.6 million, 11.2 percent of those who needed treatment, received it at a specialty facility.”
Although there are many negative stereotypes about drug users, substance abuse can be successfully treated through professional treatment programs. If you are struggling with substance abuse, please seek inpatient treatment and get back to the life you want to have.