7 Drug and Alcohol Myths Debunked
This is National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week, this year being held Jan. 25 to 31, a weeklong event designed to shatter the many myths teenagers and others pass around about substance abuse and addiction. This year’s events include community-based gatherings, online activities and a Web chat with scientists on Jan. 26. There are terrific interactive online features, including the national drug and alcohol IQ challenge, and statistics and infographics that can be downloaded and shared. You can see what’s going on in your area on this map.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), about one-third of high school seniors reported using an illicit drug in the last year and 5% said they had misused prescription pain pills. In addition, more than 20% reported smoking marijuana in the past month. Many teens who abuse substances are unaware of the risks they are taking with their health and the dangers inherent in driving under the influence of any mind-altering drug. Because research shows a strong link between drug use, including marijuana, and cognitive abilities, the goal of National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week is to give teens science-based information so they make decisions that will benefit rather than destroy their futures.
Here are seven of the most common myths surrounding drug and alcohol abuse:
“Marijuana is not addictive.”
A wealth of research shows that about 9% of people who try marijuana will become addicted to the drug. The number goes up to about 17% in those who start using marijuana while still in their teens and to 25% to 50% among daily users.
“Pain medications are safe because doctors prescribe them.”
Many kinds of prescription drugs are highly addictive, including opioid painkillers such as hydrocodone (Norco, Vicodin) and oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), and should be used only as prescribed and only for a few days. Research suggests that many teens who use heroin started by experimenting with prescription medication. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who have become dependent on prescription opioids are 40 times more likely to use heroin.
“I only drink beer, so I can’t be an alcoholic.”
Alcoholism is not defined by what you drink but rather the effect drinking has on your life. If your drinking is causing problems at home or work, you have a problem. If you find that you need a few beers or a glass or two of wine every day after work just to unwind, you may have become psychologically dependent on alcohol and be putting your long-term health at risk.
“Drug addiction is a choice.”
Drug dependence is a mental disorder that doesn’t discriminate. It cuts across all education and socioeconomic levels. People do not choose to become addicts. While the initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, profound brain changes that occur over time make using drugs as important to the brain as the basics, like food, water and sex. Presidential candidate Chris Christie recently put it this way: “What we have to do is say, yes, it was a bad choice to use drugs … but haven’t all of us made bad choices in our lives? We’re just fortunate it didn’t involve an addiction to drugs or alcohol. It’s a disease and we need to treat it.”
“Teenagers are too young to become addicted.”
On the contrary. Teenagers are more prone to addiction than adults. The human brain isn’t fully formed until about age 25, and it’s the front of the brain — which controls impulsive and risk-taking behavior — that’s the last to mature. Addiction is a form of learning, and just like a young brain is better able to absorb a new language, sadly, addiction is also more efficient in the adolescent brain. Young people can get addicted faster and suffer permanent brain damage as a result of substance abuse.
“Drug addiction is a hopeless existence.”
This myth can make it harder for addicts to seek treatment and resume a normal life. While it’s true that addiction is a chronic disease like diabetes, asthma or hypertension that cannot be cured, it can be effectively managed. Asking for help is the first step to recovering from a condition that is highly treatable. Anyone can become addicted to drugs and anyone can recover.
“You have to use drugs for a long time before you can become addicted.”
Addiction can sneak up on you. Though it’s unlikely that you’ll develop a full-blown addiction to a drug upon first use, an individual’s initial experience can be the start of a compulsive cycle. Many heroin addicts report getting hooked on their first use.
This is only the Cliff’s Notes version of the myths and misconceptions surrounding drug and alcohol abuse. It’s critical that parents arm themselves with the latest and most accurate information and discuss it with their kids. Research shows that children whose parents talk with them on a regular basis about the dangers of substances are 50% less likely to try them. And if you fear that your child is using substances, don’t wait to reach out for help. Their goals and dreams are riding on it.
By Laura Nott