Myths of Drug Abuse and Addiction

There are a great many myths surrounding drug abuse and addiction. To an outsider with no personal experience battling dependency, addiction may look like a lack of willpower, or even a lack of effort, on the substance abuser’s part.

In reality, addiction is a disease that has little to do with willpower or determination.

Some of the most common myths regarding drug abuse and addiction include:

  • All addicts are criminals.
  • You can’t get hooked on pot.
  • Addiction is nothing more than laziness.
  • You can’t start healing until you hit rock bottom.
  • Prescription drugs are safer than illicit drugs.
  • Forcing someone into treatment won’t work.
  • You can’t be an addict if you have a stable income and an in-tact family.

Myth: All Addicts Are Criminals.

Guy feeling withdrawal

A common stereotype is that addicts are all criminals. While some addicts do turn to criminal activities to fund their drug habits, it’s hardly true for the majority of people who abuse drugs.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reports half of all jail inmates are addicted to drugs or alcohol, and 80 percent are substance abusers. However, most drug and alcohol abusers have never been in serious trouble with the law. In fact, many addicts are functional in nature, making it less likely that anyone will suspect they have a substance abuse problem. PsychCentral notes up 75 to 90 percent of all addicts are functional addicts.

Myth: Marijuana Isn’t Addictive.

Proponents of marijuana and its ever-growing industry continue to promote the idea that the drug isn’t addictive. Those who have endured marijuana detox and treatment would argue otherwise. Treatment admissions for marijuana as a primary drug of abuse reached 15 percent for those 12 years and older in 2002. They hit 17 percent in 2012, showing a slow, but steadily rising increase, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Unfortunately, the legalization and decriminalization of cannabis in many states have led people to feel more comfortable with its use. In 2014, a man shot and killed his wife following his ingestion of pot-laced candies — known as “edibles” — he purchased legally in Colorado, CNN News reports. Similar events, including suicides, have prompted more attention toward the potential for adverse reactions when using marijuana.

Addiction to marijuana is more likely the earlier you start using it in life. Per SAMHSA, 81.1 percent of marijuana abusers admitted for treatment between 2000 and 2010 who had started using prior to age 17 were using the drug for at least six years, compared to only 45.8 percent of those who didn’t start using until they were 18 or older.

Myth: Substance Abusers Are Just Lazy.
Myth: Addicts Must Hit Rock Bottom First.
Myth: Prescription Drugs Are Safer Than Illicit Drugs.
Myth: Treatment Can Only Be Voluntary.

If you really wanted to stop, you would. Most substance abusers have heard this phrase many times. SAMHSA notes that only 24.5 percent of the millions who needed addiction treatment between 2010 and 2013 and didn’t get it cited not wanting to stop as their reason.

Addiction is often viewed as going hand in hand with unemployment; however, only one in every six unemployed individuals is a substance abuser, according to the CNN Money.

Mental illness is often a huge factor in addiction, and many are completely unaware of it. Almost a full third of people with mental health disorders are impacted by substance abuse, too, per the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Others may have had troubled childhoods that left them predisposed to a greater likelihood for mental illness and/or addiction.

The idea that an addict can’t accept help and get better before she has reached her lowest point is a fallacy. “Rock bottom” is the infamous terminology used to describe the lowest place that substance abusers all presumably fall to at one point. Many addicts never reach rock bottom. Many decide to pick up the pieces and get on with their lives in sobriety before “rock bottom” ever happens.

Some succeed in treatment, while others relapse. Success has little to do with what point the addict was at prior to treatment and more to do with the treatment experience itself and what she did with what she learned after rehab.

Many addicts simply don’t stay in treatment long enough. Detox alone isn’t sufficient to address addiction, and a stay of fewer than 90 days in treatment isn’t frequently effective. One study highlighted by the LA Times states that only one in three who enrolled in treatment stay to complete it. But the benefit of long-term treatment is clear. Those who seek out treatment within a month of finishing detox will take 40 percent longer to relapse, if they do at all, according to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

Many people make the assumption that prescription drugs are not as dangerous as their illicit counterparts, but this isn’t true. Benzodiazepines, used to treat anxiety, are frequently abused, and they are incredibly dangerous. In fact, up to 80 percent of those who abuse benzodiazepines are also abusing other illicit substances, most frequently prescription opioid painkillers, American Family Physician notes. In 2011, 31 percent of opioid painkiller overdose deaths also involved benzodiazepines, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Prescription opioid pain relievers are the most popularly abused prescription drugs of all. Many varieties of these drugs exist, and all can be highly toxic. Some drug abusers will opt for these pills and patches in lieu of an available heroin supply. They believe they’re actually safer swallowing these drugs that a doctor readily prescribes to patients every day than they are injecting an illicit substance, but prescription opioid pain relievers kill more people every year than heroin and cocaine combined, Medscape reports. Detox from opiate painkillers is much more involved than simply weaning off the drugs, and it involves the same level of detail and medical attention that heroin detox does.

Many people enter treatment every year and successfully complete it. These people go on to live responsible, clean and drug-free lives, and not all of these people happily entered rehab. Some were forced by court orders to enter treatment, and some reluctantly entered after a family intervention.

Per NIDA, treatment does not have to be voluntary to be successful. Many adults who are processed through drug courts and ordered to seek treatment not only recover from substance abuse, but also a great deal go on to never commit another crime again. According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, 75 percent who graduate from this system are never arrested again.

Myth: If You’ve Got Your Life in Order, It’s Not Addiction.

As previously noted, there are many functional alcoholics and drug addicts. Oftentimes, these addicts take the longest to seek treatment, because they’ve seemingly got their act together. The University at Buffalo reported in 2006 that an astounding 19.2 million people have gone to work while under the influence of alcohol or hungover.

PsychCentral points out that only a mere nine percent of alcoholics look like what society expects an alcoholic to be — someone whose drinking habits are ruining their life, wrecking relationships, and leading to job loss or other traumatic events. The Lane Report claims approximately 20 percent of alcoholics are highly functional. These people are still addicts who are in need of serious help, but they will likely take longer to get it – if they ever do.

Do You Need Help?

Don’t let the myths and stereotypes surrounding addiction prevent you from getting the treatment you need. We hope to reshape the way people see addiction and alter how addicts perceive themselves. If you’re ready to take that first step toward recovery, we’re here to help. Call now.