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8 Myths About Addiction You SHOULDN’T Believe

guy snapping a cigarette

We all sometimes fall for the myths that our society feeds us. Don’t fall for these myths about addiction. Knowing the truth can save lives.

Myth #1: Sheer willpower gets an addict through detox, rehab and long-term recovery.

Yeah, the way sheer willpower gets a cancer patient into recovery… As absurd as we know it is for sheer willpower to treat any other disease, we seem to make an exception with addiction. If you’re an addict and struggling with relapse, this can make you feel as if your recovery can never happen–because either you’ve got sufficient willpower or you don’t to get through recovery. The reality is far more complicated.

An addicted person does need to make a choice at some point that sobriety is what he/she wants. But that choice isn’t enough. From there, he/she will face a long road of healing a brain that is sending out powerful urges to do the thing that he/she is trying so hard to fight. That’s why both a caring community of loved ones and recovering addicts, as well as skilled healthcare workers, can make such a difference. Nobody needs to do it alone.

That being said, willpower is a skill that good counselors will work with an addicted person on growing. However, the addicted person will still need a caring community.

Myth #2: Following a prescription will not lead to addiction.

This myth is tough, because the medical community doesn’t want anyone to become addicted. However, when a physician writes a prescription for a drug, he/she doesn’t know your unique family history, genetic makeup, experience with trauma or mental health propensity unless you tell him/her.

And it’s possible your doctor will forget to ask you. It’s equally possible he/she will not tell you all the risks you should be aware of.

If you know you have a personal or family history of any addiction, always let your doctor know.  Together you can come up with the best plan to prevent addiction and treat your condition.

Myth #3: An addicted person must first hit rock bottom to recognize their problem and receive treatment.

What is rock bottom? For too many throughout history, rock bottom has been in a coffin. You should not enable your loved one’s addiction. You will have to set tough boundaries and displease him/her.

However, if you loved an addicted person, that doesn’t make you helpless. You can work the system to get help for your loved one long before rock bottom, because you don’t want to wait and see what rock bottom means for your loved one.

Myth #4: Addiction treatment is more self-help gimmick than actual medical practice.

There’s a very dangerous addiction myth that rehab is mostly placebo effect. It may work for a while. However, once patients are discharged, they will almost always return to drugs or alcohol.

This is patently false. Some patients do relapse, but there are estimated 22 million Americans living in recovery from addiction. That’s nearly 10% of the American population. Despite relapses, something is working for these individuals.

The top rehab centers rely exclusively on evidence-based medical techniques and procedures. Psychotherapy, anti-craving medications, peer group meetings, life skills classes and mind-body healing techniques have played a constructive role in recovery for millions of addicts and alcoholics. Scientific studies have established the effectiveness of such methods beyond a reasonable doubt.

Relapse is common after addiction treatment because overcoming chemical dependency is a tremendously difficult challenge.  A 30- to 90-day stay in a residential treatment center is only the beginning of a complex healing process that will continue for a lifetime.

Myth #5: Mental health problems doom addiction treatment. Rehabs aren’t setup for dual diagnoses.

Since depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD and personality disorders are all associated with an increased risk for addiction, this would be tragic. Thankfully, it’s not true.

Addiction specialists are well aware that mental health disorders often accompany chemical dependency. Research has shown that both conditions (or all conditions if more than one co-occurring mental health disorder is present) must be treated simultaneously if true healing is to occur.

Consequently, patients in rehab with a dual diagnosis for substance abuse and a mental health condition will receive integrated treatment services designed to promote comprehensive wellness. This is the best way for individuals with mental health issues to address their substance abuse problems while learning to cope more constructively with their unique life challenges.

Myth #6: Your addicted loved one must be totally on board and highly motivated for addiction treatment to work.

Certainly it’s a plus when an addicted person arrives at rehab because they had an enlightening moment where they realized they needed help. That would be great.

The reality is that addicted individuals show up at rehab for all different reasons–often packing a suitcase of denial with them. The court orders rehab. Their family makes not going to rehab a difficult choice. They’re afraid of losing their kids unless they go to rehab. Their employer threatens to fire them without rehab. Addiction treatment isn’t really their top priority, but they end up at rehab anyway.

The good news is many of these individuals will experience significant breakthroughs during treatment. This is thanks to counselors and peers who are able to help them see the truth. Also, how a person looks at the world with drugs coursing through their blood can be quite different to how they feel post-detox.

On the other hand, many highly motivated men and women struggle tremendously to control their substance use even after a productive stint in rehab, in part because they underestimate just how difficult overcoming addiction can be.

Myth #7: Addiction rehab centers follow regimented, one-size-fits-all plans that will never fit me (or my loved one).

There may have been a time past when this was generally true, but it’s not the case today. If you think treatment for addiction involves nothing more than endless talk therapy, supplemented by the occasional pharmaceutical prescription, you might be surprised.

These days, rehab centers offer a wide variety of wellness options, including training in yoga, martial arts, art and music. Alternative therapies often incorporate mind-body healing practices such as acupuncture, hypnosis or meditation. In addition, animals are often used to help recovering addicts shift their focus away from their own problems.

These practices add diversity and depth to traditional forms of addiction treatment, and they allow addiction counselors a range of options as they attempt to create healing regimens customized to the needs and life interests of each patient.

Myth #8: Relapsing after treatment is worse than no treatment at all.

This addiction myth is most prevalent when you’ve not been around other recovering addicts.

A relapse is certainly discouraging, both for the addicted person and all the loved ones invested in his/her recovery. However, here’s the reality: relapse following treatment for chemical addiction is common. In fact, it happens more often than not.

But relapse is not the end of the world, nor is it the end of recovery. Addicts learn a great deal about themselves during rehab and emerge equipped with powerful self-development tools that can help them build a safer and brighter future. While subsequent falls from grace are unfortunate, all of this vital knowledge and insight is not automatically lost when relapse occurs.

It may take a good bit of time and even multiple trips to rehab before an addict or alcoholic is able to maintain sobriety for an indefinite period. But each life lesson they learn along the way has value. While relapse is a setback, it does not cancel out the lasting, positive effects of professional addiction treatment.

FACT: Rehab Success Stories Aren’t Addiction Myths

There are many who receive addiction treatment, find their sobriety and go onto live meaningful lives in recovery. What’s important is that these success stories usually hold one thing in common: addiction treatment. The one thing that’s not a myth about addiction treatment is this: it can help.

Of course, there are no guarantees. But addiction treatment works better than its detractors claim. One month-long visit to a residential treatment facility may not be enough to preserve permanent sobriety, but it does increase the chances that an addict or alcoholic will eventually learn to control their self-destructive behavior.

Rehab isn’t a cure for addiction, but it can have tremendous therapeutic effects over the long haul. Anyone who is abusing drugs or alcohol should be encouraged to seek professional help immediately, before disaster strikes and the doors to healing are closed forever.

Posted on May 22, 2017 and modified on April 23, 2019

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