For alcoholics, drug addicts, and their families, treatment, and rehabilitation offer the hope of redemption and healing. But substance abusers and the people who love them are often unsure what exactly to expect from the treatment, and their tentative sense of optimism is often tempered by uncertainty and trepidation. Complicating things further, misconceptions about the rehabilitation process abound. Much of what people think they know about drug and alcohol treatment bears only a slight resemblance to the truth. Separating fact from fiction when the subject is substance abuse treatment is not always easy. But it is vitally important that people struggling with addiction or alcoholism enter rehab with realistic expectations and at least some understanding of what the process of recovery from chemical dependency will entail. Therefore, in the spirit of setting the record straight, we present the top 10 myths about drug and alcohol treatment, each of which is widely believed despite its disconnection from the truth.
Myth #1: Drug and alcohol rehabilitation can cure addiction.
The Truth: Addiction is a chronic health condition that can be sent into remission, but this does not mean an addict or alcoholic can be cured. Chemical dependency is permanent, and no matter how well people respond to treatment or how long they stay clean and sober, addicts can never drink or use drugs again without serious consequences. This is why substance abusers who have been through rehabilitation and are no longer abusing intoxicants are said to be “in recovery” rather than recovered, signaling that the process is continuous and ongoing.
Myth #2: Substance abusers must hit rock bottom before they are ready to accept treatment.
The Truth: There is some categorical confusion going on here. It is true that addicts often don’t seek treatment until they’ve hit the skids and their lives have become a complete mess, but that doesn’t mean that drug abusers and alcoholics must bottom out before they are ready to seek help. In fact, studies show that the sooner a substance abuser gets into treatment after developing an addiction, the better his or her chances will be of staying clean and sober for the duration. Persuading addicts to enter treatment is not easy at any stage of the disease, but sooner is always preferable to later.
Myth #3: Substance abusers must really want to be in rehab for the process to work.
The Truth: This sounds self-evident, but it is a myth. Drug and alcohol rehabilitation counselors are experts at breaking down the walls of denial thrown up by patients who are initially resistant to treatment, which is why recovery rates generally don’t vary much between addicts who come in on their own and those who are doing it at the request of family or in response to a court order.
Myth #4: Seeking help to overcome addiction or alcoholism is a sign of personal weakness.
The Truth: Addiction is a disease that causes physiological changes in the brain and people cannot hope to conquer it through willpower alone. Smart, sustainable strategies are required to subdue the scourge of substance abuse, and only those who go at the process intelligently are likely to find lasting sobriety. Addiction specialists have a wealth of experience in this area, and those who eschew their assistance will be flying blind through an impenetrable fog.
Myth #5: When addicts really apply themselves, they can recover from chemical dependency in a relatively short period of time.
The Truth: There are no shortcuts to recovery from addiction, and those who suggest differently are simply regurgitating the willpower myth in another guise. Research has shown that those who stay in treatment for a full year – 60 to 90 days in a licensed rehab facility followed by extensive aftercare – are twice as likely to remain clean and sober as those who seek treatment for a shorter period of time.
Myth #6: When substance abusers who have been through treatment suffer a relapse, it will put them right back at square one.
The Truth: In reality, relapse is common during recovery. However, those who try to give up drugs and alcohol on their own will be much less prepared to handle such slip-ups than those who have been counseled by professionals who understand all the trials and tribulations of the substance abuse treatment process. Knowledge always facilitates recovery from addiction, even if the recovery must re-commence after a relapse. The treatment provides substance abusers with tools for change that will stay with them forever, no matter how many setbacks they have to endure.
Myth #7: If an addict or alcoholic agrees to go to rehab, it could end up costing him his job.
The Truth: Two pieces of federal legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act, guarantee that addicts and alcoholics who undergo treatment for substance abuse will be given the time they need to do so by their employers and that their jobs will be saved for them while they are away.
Myth #8: When other mental health issues co-exist with addiction (depression, anxiety disorder, OCD, etc.) they must be treated first or they will interfere with the drug and alcohol rehabilitation process.
The Truth: Exactly the opposite is true. Addiction is a life-threatening condition, and every attempt should be made to help addicts and alcoholics overcome this disease before their other problems are dealt with – although they will need to be dealt with eventually, in part because the continuing existence of other troubling disorders will make it more difficult to sustain sobriety in the long run.
Myth #9: Treatment for drug and alcohol problems follows a strict regimen, so it really doesn’t matter what rehabilitation center a substance abuser attends.
The Truth: A one-size-fits-all approach will not help very many addicts recover from their illness; treatment should be customized to the individual, and before checking into any rehab facility prospective patients and/or their family members should talk to staff and administrators to make sure their specific needs will be met. There are many excellent treatment centers out there, but there are also some that are substandard, and no one should enter rehab before doing some research.
Myth #10: Drug and alcohol rehabilitation usually fails.
The Truth: Relapse is common among addicts and alcoholics who go through treatment, and a shallow statistical analysis may make it seem as if rehab really doesn’t work very well. But all this really reveals is that successful rehabilitation from a drug or alcohol addiction frequently takes quite a bit of time. Relapses notwithstanding, if patients who enter rehab are willing to stick with their aftercare programs and are not afraid to return to treatment more than once should they run into trouble, they will have a solid chance of ultimately overcoming their chemical dependency. Addicts and alcoholics who try to get clean and sober on their own, on the other hand, are much less likely to succeed.
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