8 Misconceptions About Drug Addiction

Many people misunderstand drug addiction, more accurately called substance use disorder. The myths and misconceptions about drug use and addiction need to be corrected because they are harmful. False beliefs about this condition can prevent people from getting treatment that is effective. Drug addiction is not a choice; it is a chronic condition that can be treated and managed.

Drug addiction is a complicated behavioral condition and brain disorder. Drugs hijack the brain and change its chemistry.

You may choose to try drugs initially, but the way they alter your brain and behaviors can lead to addictive behaviors that are extremely difficult to control.

To many people who have not experienced addiction, for themselves or in a loved one, it seems simple. This leads to many misconceptions that are damaging to people who are struggling.

If you or someone in your life is misusing drugs, understand the truth about the consequences and what you can do about it.

1. Drug Addiction Is a Choice.

This is a myth that is slowly beginning to recede, but a stigma is still attached to substance use and addiction. Many people continue to believe, even about themselves, that addiction is a matter of choice rather than a brain disorder.

There is no character flaw or weakness in a person who becomes addicted. Multiple factors contribute to addiction, from genetics to trauma, mental illness, and home environment. It is a complicated illness that no one chooses.

2. If Addiction Is a Disease, There Is Nothing You Can Do About It.

One misconception often leads to another. Some experts push back against calling addiction a disease because it leads to the belief that the addict has no control over their outcome. The truth of addiction is more complicated than one extreme or the other.

Most specialists describe addiction as a chronic illness. Like type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure, it is a disease you have but one you can control. You may always have this condition and require ongoing treatment or go through relapses, but you can make positive changes and progress. Effective treatment manages symptoms and helps you build a better life; it does not cure the disease.

3. Addiction Is a Stand-Alone Disease.

Substance use disorders often occur along with a mental illness. Approximately half of the people diagnosed with mental illness also meet the criteria for a substance use disorder. And half of the people diagnosed with substance use disorder are also diagnosed with one or more mental illnesses.

Drug addiction often co-occurs with conditions like anxiety disorders, depression, and trauma disorders for several reasons:

  • They have similar risk factors and tend to develop together
  • When mental illness is untreated or not managed well, some people turn to drugs for symptom relief
  • Drug use can trigger mental illness in someone already predisposed to it

Even those who do not have a co-occurring mental illness often have other issues, such as symptoms of mental illness that do not qualify for a diagnosis. They may have experienced childhood trauma or lived with a parent with a substance use disorder. Addiction does not occur in a vacuum.

4. Treatment Cannot Be Effective if Forced.

If you think your loved one you had to push into treatment won’t get anything out of it, think again. Research very clearly shows that treatment does not need to be voluntary for a positive result. Taking that step to voluntarily go into treatment, without any push, is incredibly difficult.

When someone is urged to go into treatment by loved ones or even forced through the criminal justice system, the intervention has every chance of being successful. A push can even make treatment more effective and help keep the individual in care longer.

5. Quitting Cold Turkey Is Enough.

Detox is the first step in effective addiction treatment, but it is not treatment by itself. Detox is the process of the drug leaving the body, which causes severe withdrawal symptoms that often contribute to relapse. Many people believe that if they can get through a week or two of this, they are in the clear.

In some rare cases, this may be true. For most people, however, only detoxing and not following through with real treatment will inevitably lead to relapse. For lasting, positive changes you must put in the work: therapy to explore the basis of your behaviors; support groups to learn from others; behavioral therapies to learn how to change your negative patterns and cope with stress in healthy ways; and medical treatment if necessary.

Begin Your Recovery Journey Today


6. Weekly Counseling Is Enough to Beat Addiction.

The most important point about treatment for substance use disorder is that there is no single best option for everyone. Some people can benefit from outpatient drug counseling and therapy. Especially for those with mild conditions, this more limited treatment can help with positive behavior changes.

But if you have developed a true substance use disorder and cannot manage your behaviors, that type of treatment may not be adequate. Keep in mind that this is not a matter of willpower. To stop using drugs with a full-blown addiction requires extended effort, therapy, and medical care.

Research suggests that treatment is most effective when it lasts for three months or longer. The best outcomes, in terms of abstinence, result from these extended stays in treatment. Recovery takes a long time, and inadequate treatment can lead to early relapses. Patients who leave treatment early have worse outcomes and are more likely to relapse.

7. Drug Addicts Shouldn’t Take More Drugs for Treatment.

This misconception has been around for a long time. For some people, full abstinence, even from prescription drugs, is the only way to recover from addiction. The research does not back up this belief, however.

Studies show that medical care and approved drugs for certain types of addiction can be highly effective along with other interventions like therapy and support groups. Medications are especially effective for minimizing cravings and reducing withdrawal symptoms for people with opioid use disorders. If these are not managed well, it is easy to relapse.

8. Drug Addiction in Society, and Its Costs, Is Inevitable.

Many people see substance use disorders as intractable problems. They view drug addiction as a societal issue that will never really go away—that people will misuse drugs, get addicted, be drags on society, and cost everyone money, no matter what we do.

The truth is that effective strategies can reduce and prevent substance use and addiction. Research indicates that protective factors, at large in society and for individuals, can reduce the incidence of drug misuse:

  • Improving availability of recreation and social activities for young people
  • Increased parental supervision
  • School involvement
  • Good coping skills for stress and mental illness

Studies show that adolescents are most at risk for beginning problematic substance use. Policies that provide more recreation, supervision, and mental health care can prevent substance misuse and later addiction.

For people already addicted, public money spent to treat them is not wasted. Evidence-based treatment reduces the negative burden of addiction, including personal health, crime, HIV infections, and other consequences. According to the World Health Organization, spending one dollar on interventions represents a seven-dollar return in reduced costs to society.

If you or a loved one is struggling with drug use, there is no need to wait for treatment. Effective treatments, based on evidence from research, are available right now. You do not need to fully meet the criteria for a substance use disorder to benefit from residential treatment. Earlier interventions can help you make more lasting positive changes now.

Alta Mira offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders.

Contact us today to start the journey toward lasting recovery.