When you or someone you love is battling a substance use disorder, there is a lot of misinformation out there that may prevent someone from reaching out for help. While it’s never too late to get needed assistance, it’s important to work based on facts rather than continuing to function surrounded by myths. While there is some good information available online to help with recovery, some resources are not based on fact and just perpetuate myths heard throughout the years. Let’s take a look at five of the most common misconceptions about addiction and replace the lies with truth.
Myth #1: Addiction Is a Choice, Not a Disease
While a person may decide to voluntarily have a drink or choose to try a drug for the first time, there is more going on inside the brain. Genetic predisposition to misusing substances is a real complication for many people who experiment with drugs and alcohol. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug addiction is a brain disease. While this does not excuse the harm done by someone in the midst of this disease, it does explain why so often we see someone who is no longer in control of their own actions and why they seem to be willing to do anything to feed this addiction.
The best and most successful way to assist someone with their out-of-control substance use is by recognizing the vital link between the brain and their actions. Treating the addiction like a disease rather than a choice made by the user is the most productive way of helping someone become sober. The specific drug someone uses will affect their brain in unique ways, meaning that the best way to treat their disease will depend on which drug is controlling the brain.
For a long time, the genetic connection wasn’t understood. However, we now know that for someone with a first-degree relative with an addiction, meaning mother, father or siblings, those people carry about a 60% higher risk of developing their own addiction over individuals without a genetic predisposition. Having this increased risk doesn’t mean that a person will absolutely become an addict, yet knowing that a person has this predisposition can give them a better chance of knowing what their risks are and doing something about them prior to developing an addiction.
This could mean becoming a teetotaler, avoiding all alcohol and drugs entirely for their entire lives. Or, more realistically, it could mean making a decision to stay in control at all times and never accept more than one drink on special occasions. In either situation, knowing the odds gives a person increased control early in life. Clearly, however, this is not always the outcome. We need to offer hope to those with the increased risk of developing the disease of addiction.
Myth #2: When They Hit Rock Bottom, They’ll Get Help
This is quite a dangerous assumption. Given the sheer volume of drug overdose deaths in the United States, if someone waits to hit “rock bottom,” they may not survive. Aside from the incorrect assumption that there will be that lowest point, a person can lose everything, and there is still no guarantee that they’ll reach out for help. They may face arrest, the loss of a job and destroyed family relationships. It’s vital to remember that an addiction doesn’t level off on its own; it gets worse without treatment.
Drug and alcohol misuse is associated with dangerous behavior and situations that place others in harm’s way. The consequences of someone’s addiction can spread far and wide, wreaking havoc on everyone around them. Don’t wait for a “rock bottom” situation as that may never come. And when it does, it may cost someone their life.
Myth #3: If You Can’t Stop Your Substance Use, You’re Just Weak
This false belief has prevented many people in need of help from reaching out. Addiction is not a weakness or a moral failure. There is so much that contributes to addiction, and if you aren’t able to control it on your own, that does not mean you are weak; in fact, asking for help shows that you’re strong as it can be one of the hardest things a person can face when they are in the midst of addiction. Realizing the problem and addressing ways to overcome it is the first step in reclaiming your life for yourself rather than being a slave to dependence on any substance.
Many people do try to reduce their substance use or even stop altogether and find that it is too overwhelming. No matter where you or a loved one is in their journey, reaching out is incredibly brave and proves that you no longer want to be controlled. Needing help to stop substance use is not “weak.” The truth is that it takes a person of strength to realize they are not able to tackle such a serious health issue on their own. It’s important to recognize when the time has come to accept that they feel helpless and incapable of overcoming their addiction without caring professionals who are trained to handle the complications and discomfort.
Myth #4: If You Relapse, Treatment Is a Failure
This one is frequently heard, and it is always wrong. Between 70 and 90% of people who have attempted to quit using substances through treatment will experience at least one mild to moderate slip-up. Addiction is a chronic disease and should be managed as one, just as people manage hypertension or diabetes. There is no one-size-fits-all method of recovery or management, so treatment adjustments may be necessary over time to keep someone on the path of sobriety.
Why these relapses happen has a lot to do with cues and activities associated with their previous life as an active user. At the beginning of sober life, it isn’t always clear what a person should stay away from when they start recovery. People in treatment can plan out where they should steer clear of and who they should stay away from, but once they’re back in their everyday lives, it isn’t always possible to avoid every triggering situation.
It’s important to understand why triggers can cause relapse. There are two stages involved in addiction: The first stage is the physical high that happens when the brain “rewards” a user with the high that happens with substance use, which then makes the person want to feel that reward again. The second stage happens after repeated use, creating long-lasting changes in the brain, changing brain functions, and causing problems with the functions involving memory, decision-making and impulse control. The biggest risk of relapse happens in those first three months after treatment. Learning the cues that could lead to relapse is one part of recovery that can aid in preventing it.
Avoiding places, people, sounds and scenery that may lead to brain to seek the reward of being high can significantly reduce the chances of falling into former habits. If the user has been sober for a significant period of time, the tolerance they had may have been reduced during sobriety, and if they take the amount of substance they were using during the final stages of active addiction, the risk of a fatal overdose is very real. Therefore, make sure that during a relapse, the user seeks medical attention right away. After any relapse, it is critical to reach out as soon as possible to a sponsor or a support group to get back up and try again. Remember, it can take three, four or even five attempts before an addicted individual finally triumphs and gains permanent sobriety and control.
Myth #5: If You Use Medication in Treatment, You’re Just Changing One Addiction Into Another
Medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, is a popular treatment option for many people attempting to overcome dangerous substance use issues, particularly when it comes to addiction involving strong opioids like heroin and scheduled prescription pain medications like oxycodone. Many people try and fail to quit using substances on their own, but due to the painful, extensive withdrawal process, they give up quickly. When MAT is incorporated into a treatment program, these medications help people get through the initial process of recovery in a less painful way. What MAT does is ease a person through the withdrawal from substances by helping their body adjust to not having the drug anymore.
Withdrawal can involve serious discomfort as the body craves a substance that it is no longer receiving. In some situations, withdrawal on your own can be physically dangerous. The symptoms vary depending on the substance of addiction but may include restlessness, excessive yawning, sweating, shaking, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, runny nose and sleeplessness. In the case of some substances, including alcohol and benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Valium, there is a risk of fatal withdrawal stemming from seizures.
For many people, the idea of overcoming serious withdrawal on their own is too much to even consider. The safest method of getting drugs out of the system involves the use of medications to detox the body. It is not replacing one addiction for another. What it does is offer a life-saving chance to become sober safely through advanced medicine. The availability of pharmacotherapies for withdrawal increases on a regular basis and have been intensively studied. MAT treatment options do not substitute one addiction for another: They offer hope to those who need help to reclaim their lives and conquer their addiction, doing so safely and in a controlled environment.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, there is help available. Professionals are ready to listen to your needs and point you in the direction to gain control over your life and offer the assistance you need to achieve and keep your sobriety. Granite Recovery Centers has several locations with the best treatment available. No one has to do this alone. We also have help for families struggling as the result of a loved one’s substance use.
Together, we can address the concerns you have and develop strategies to go back into the world as a healthy, productive and sober individual. In drug or alcohol rehab treatment, you’ll learn how to confront your triggers, manage your cravings and learn other skills necessary for long-lasting recovery.
There is help and hope beyond the throes of addiction. Call us today, and we can walk you through the options available to you to determine which service best fits your needs. Don’t wait for “rock bottom,” and don’t suffer alone when you don’t have to. Let us be the support you need for recovery.
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