December 4th, 2023
Throughout history, legends have been passed through generations as stories and many old wives’ tales get picked up along the way. While some myths, such as carrots helping you see in the dark or fish having poor memory can be relatively harmless, others, such as misconceptions around addiction, can do serious harm. Addiction is a complex and often misunderstood issue. Here, we aim to debunk the biggest myths around this mental health condition and lay the foundation for healthy conversations.
Myth 1: Addiction is a choice
One of the most pervasive myths surrounding addiction is that abusing substances is a choice, and recovery is a matter of willpower. This myth implies that those suffering from addiction could choose to stop at any time.
Those who become addicted usually turn to substances as a coping mechanism for deeper issues. If these issues are not addressed, the addictive behaviours will increase. Once they start using substances, their long-term use leads to further changes in the brain, making it difficult to control behaviour, feel pleasure from healthier rewards, and focus on anything other than obtaining and taking substances. As both a physical and mental illness, addiction is a complex chronic condition.
Addiction builds gradually until it takes over someone’s life, often before they realise what is happening. Judging them and withdrawing support, thinking they can overcome addiction on their own, only worsens their symptoms. Those who struggle with addiction need treatment, not punishment, to heal.
Myth 2: You have to hit rock bottom before seeking help
Another common myth surrounding addiction recovery is that one must reach a crisis point before seeking professional help. This myth can be dangerous because it suggests that people need to suffer before they can get better. In reality, the earlier someone seeks help for their compulsions, the better their chances are for a successful recovery.
Many people live in denial and avoid addressing their substance use. Perhaps they believe ‘it’s not bad enough’ or that they cannot be addicted because they are successful in their professional lives or are worried about stigma. Some think that because their substances are legal, such as prescription drugs or alcohol, their use cannot lead to addiction. The reality is that anyone is vulnerable to addiction and can fall victim to this condition from all sorts of substances and behaviours.
If using substances is causing problems or negative effects in your or your loved one’s personal or professional life or is impacting your health or wellbeing, it is important to seek support. Getting help as soon as the negative consequences of substance use are felt can prevent one from hitting bottom.
Myth 3: Relapse means failure
Another myth surrounding addiction recovery is that relapse means failure. Moreover, family members and friends of someone who relapses may believe they were not trying hard enough to sustain their recovery or did not want it enough.
In reality, relapses are common in addiction recovery. Addiction is a chronic illness, and like other chronic illnesses, it requires lifelong management and can involve periods of remission and relapse.
The best way to approach relapse is without judgement or blame, reassuring the person of concern that they have not failed or let anyone down and reminding them that relapses are a normal part of the recovery process. Relapses can also be approached as opportunities for learning and growth – they can indicate that a treatment plan needs modification or that new strategies for managing triggers are needed.
It is important to remember that most individuals struggling with addiction who experience a relapse ultimately can achieve sustained recovery.
Myth 4: Detox is enough to treat addiction
Another myth surrounding addiction recovery is that detox is the only addiction treatment one needs. Medical detox is a medically supervised process of removing intoxicants from the system through a tapering system. Some believe that after detox, the worst of addiction is over.
While withdrawing from a substance is an important first step in addiction recovery, it does not address the underlying trauma that originally led someone to abuse drugs or alcohol. While physical addiction will be managed through detox, the psychological attachment will not be. For as long as the trauma is left undealt, someone with addiction will always go back to these substances as a coping mechanism.
Addiction treatment is holistic and addresses physical and mental health as well as the implementation of lifestyle changes. It involves addressing the underlying causes of addiction and developing coping skills to prevent relapse. Addiction treatment may involve individual therapy, group therapy, medication, the 12-step programme, or a combination of these approaches.
Myth 5: Recovery is not fun
Recovery is a lifelong process requiring significant changes in how a person processes emotions and the decisions they make. A daily, conscious effort is indeed required to maintain recovery. However, maintaining recovery is anything but an arduous, painful effort associated with loss or lack. Life in recovery can be enjoyable in new ways. Many who recover from substance use find their lives enriched and transformed, so the benefits outweigh the difficult days.
Avoiding people and environments that may bring back cravings does not mean one cannot have fun again. You will gain much if you seek out new healthier activities and spaces, rediscover or experiment with new interests and hobbies, and find new friends in support groups or in the rehab alumni community. Recovery can also help you revive relationships with friends and loved ones.
As with each unique cause of addiction, every individual’s road to recovery is multifaceted and complex. What matters most is knowing there is a way out of addiction and a chance for you or your loved one to regain control of life. Get in touch with Recovery Lighthouse today, and we can discuss various treatment options for you or your loved one.