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22 Myths Around Addiction and Substance Use Disorder

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Myths about addiction or substance use disorder (SUD) are widespread and can be harmful. These myths often perpetuate stigma, hinder treatment, and prevent open conversations that could facilitate recovery.

Medical and Scientific Misunderstandings

Myth #1: Addiction is a choice, not a disease.

  • Reality: Substance use disorder is a complex medical condition influenced by genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. It’s not simply a matter of willpower.

Myth #2: All substance users are addicts.

  • Reality: Not everyone who uses a substance has a disorder. The criteria for diagnosis involve factors like loss of control, negative impact on daily life, and physical dependence.

Myth #3: Addiction is untreatable.

  • Reality: Though challenging, addiction is treatable through various methods, including medication-assisted treatment, therapy, and lifestyle changes.

Myth #4: Medication-assisted treatment replaces one addiction for another.

  • Reality: Medications like methadone and buprenorphine are rigorously studied and designed to safely aid recovery without producing the “high” associated with the abused substance.

Myth #5: Detox alone is enough for recovery.

  • Reality: While detox is an essential first step for some, comprehensive treatment often involves behavioral therapy, medication, and long-term aftercare.

Myth #6: SUD is uncommon.

  • Reality: Substance use disorders are more prevalent than many realize, affecting millions worldwide. You’re not alone, and help is available.

Social and Cultural Stereotypes

Myth #7: Only certain “types” of people get addicted.

  • Reality: SUD affects people across all demographics — age, gender, socioeconomic status, and cultural background. It’s not limited to any particular “type” of person.

Myth #8: Addiction only affects people in low-income communities.

  • Reality: Addiction spans all socioeconomic statuses. Financial stability does not make one immune to addiction.

Myth #9: Alcoholism isn’t as bad as drug addiction.

  • Reality: Alcohol misuse can be just as damaging as misuse of other substances and can result in severe health complications, including liver disease and death.

Myth #10: Prescription drugs are safer than illegal drugs.

  • Reality: Prescription medications like opioids and benzodiazepines can be as addictive and dangerous as illegal substances when misused.

Myth #11: Once an addict, always an addict.

  • Reality: Recovery is possible, and many people live fulfilling lives free from substance use. The past does not have to define the future.

Emotional and Psychological Prejudices

Myth #12: Addiction is a sign of moral weakness.

  • Reality: Developing an addiction is not a character flaw or a moral failing. It’s a complex interplay of multiple factors, many of which are beyond an individual’s control.

Myth #13: People with addiction are dangerous and unpredictable.

  • Reality: The behavior of people with addiction varies, and many pose no threat to others.

Myth #14: Talking about it makes it worse.

  • Reality: Open dialogue can be the first step toward recovery.

Myth #15: Sobriety is boring.

  • Reality: Many find that life in recovery opens doors to interests, relationships, and passions previously overshadowed by substance use.

Treatment and Recovery Assumptions

Myth #16: You have to hit “rock bottom” to get better.

  • Reality: Waiting for a “rock bottom” can be dangerous. Treatment and recovery can start at any point; earlier intervention often leads to better outcomes.

Myth #17: Relapse means treatment has failed.

  • Reality: Recovery is often a long-term process that includes setbacks. A relapse doesn’t mean failure; it’s an opportunity to revisit and adjust the treatment plan.

Myth #18: A successful recovery means complete abstinence.

  • Reality: Recovery is individual and might include various end goals, including harm reduction and managed use.

Myth #19: Short-term rehab is enough.

  • Reality: Recovery is often a long-term commitment that requires ongoing support.

Myth #20: You can’t force someone into treatment.

  • Reality: While voluntary commitment is ideal, interventions and legal mandates can sometimes initiate a person’s road to recovery.

Myth #21: Family and friends can provide enough support.

  • Reality: A strong support network is beneficial but is often not a substitute for professional treatment.

Myth #22: Treatment is only for the wealthy.

  • Reality: While treatment can be expensive, various options exist, including sliding-scale facilities, insurance-covered programs, and state-funded centers.

Breaking down these addiction myths is more than an intellectual exercise; it’s a social imperative. Dispelling them opens the door to a more compassionate, effective approach to treatment. It decreases the societal stigma often associated with substance use disorders. By challenging these myths, we make room for truth, understanding, and — most importantly — hope.

Getty image by Westend61

Originally published: October 6, 2023
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