There is perhaps no medical condition surrounded by more misinformation and misunderstandings than drug addiction. Unfortunately, much of the mythology about drug addiction creates narratives in which addicts and their loved ones do not see themselves. Instead, the myths about who is affected, what addiction looks like, and when addicts need treatment work to mislead and obscure the realities of the illness; they make it harder for addicts to acknowledge their affliction, make it more difficult for families to recognize drug abuse, and, ultimately, prevent people from getting the help they need. By understanding some of the most common myths about drug addiction, you can begin to remove the obstacles to healing and recognize the need for treatment.
Drug Abuse Mostly Affects Poor, Uneducated People
Drug addiction is widely assumed to affect primarily poor, uneducated people, with few exceptions. Unfortunately, this has both contributed to the marginalization of people struggling with drug addiction and has often helped people of more means and education keep their addictions hidden. In reality, education and money do not protect you from addiction. As Jen Simon, a well-to-do stay-a-home-mom and opioid addict, recently wrote in The Washington Post:
I used my privilege to ‘pass.’ My life as a stay-at-home-mom was a perfect disguise. There are millions of us addicts disguised as regular people. We’re your neighbor or your sister. We’re in the pickup line, waiting for our kids. We’re on the PTA.
While it is true that people from all walks of life can become drug addicts drug addicts, addiction is not exactly an equal opportunity condition. In fact, money and education may increase your chances of developing certain types of addiction. A recent study from researchers at the University of Glasgow found that people with college educations were more likely to drink heavily than their less educated counterparts. Meanwhile, an estimated 30% of college students misuse prescription stimulants and “the more time you stay on campus, the more likely you are to use.” Both prescription stimulant and cocaine use are also prevalent within high-pressure environments such as tech and finance, while several high-profile cases have recently put drug abuse amongst medical professionals in the spotlight.
Heroin Is More Dangerous Than Alcohol
Alcohol is often imagined to be a relatively benign drug, perhaps due to its widespread use and legal status. Heroin, on the other hand, is widely regarded as the most dangerous of all drugs, responsible for deaths and all manner of social ills. In fact, alcohol causes more harm both individually and socially than any other drug in existence, including heroin. In 2010, former British drug Czar David Nutt “created a ranking system and ranked 20 drugs based on 16 different types of harm they might cause.” Alcohol was #1 in virtually every category, including related disease, addiction, injury, accidents and suicide, family adversities, community, and economic cost. Overall, alcohol scored a 72 out of a possible 100 points, while heroin scored only a 55. It is also significant to note that Nutt’s ranking system gives marijuana a score of 20, making it only slightly less dangerous than amphetamines and more dangerous than benzodiazepines, ketamine, and anabolic steroids.
You Can Tell if Someone Is a Drug Addict
It is true that there are often telltale signs that someone is abusing drugs, including physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. Often, however, we imagine drug addicts to be a complete mess, unable to work, constantly spending money to get drugs, and high all the time, and while that is indeed the case for some, many drug addicts hide their addictions exceptionally well. But this doesn’t mean that their addiction isn’t dangerous; in fact, high-functioning drug addicts may be less likely to receive they help they need early in their addictions because their drug abuse remains hidden to the friends and family who would ordinarily intervene. Even more importantly, the high-functioning addict may be able to hide their addiction even from themselves, making it easy to deny that they have a problem. Unfortunately, these addicts often do not receive treatment until their addiction has become so severe that it can no longer be ignored.
Addicts Have to Hit Rock Bottom Before They Get Better
One of the most disturbing and common myths about drug addiction is the idea that addicts have to hit rock bottom before they can begin to heal. In reality, the sooner someone gets treatment, the more likely they are to recover. As David Scheff, renowned author of Beautiful Boy, explains:
It just makes sense that when it comes to any illness, whether psychological or physical, we want to catch and treat it as soon as we can. The idea that we wait until someone hits bottom, until they’re so ill that their addiction is life threatening, causing extreme problems that often include ending up in prison or the emergency room, doesn’t make any sense. We ought to do our best to try to prevent that from happening. There is no reason to wait until someone hits bottom.
According to Scheff, the idea of rock bottom developed at a time when stigma and silence prevented people from acknowledging addiction and treatment was regarded as a last resort. “People didn’t go to a 12-step meeting or rehab until they no longer had a choice. They hit what they felt was rock bottom. If they didn’t stop using, they’d die. As a result, it was assumed that hitting rock bottom was what it took to find recovery.” Unfortunately, this idea is still with us today, despite monumental changes in how addiction is understood and treated.
We have to remember that for so many years, virtually the only treatment that was offered for addiction were the 12 steps. At that time, there was no model for somebody to get help in order to address an early stage of addiction, to deal with the beginnings of problematical use that could clearly lead to addiction or was a result of addiction.
Today, however, the addiction experts within the medical community understand that early treatment is imperative to creating the best possible outcomes.
Drug Addicts Are Beyond Help
Perhaps the most heartbreaking myth of all is that drug addicts are beyond help. This falsehood strips addicts and families of hope and often even influences the care they receive by physicians, therapists, and social workers. As Dr. Steven Batki, consulting Addiction Psychiatrist at Alta Mira, says, “Some physicians feel there’s nothing they can do to help addiction, so they don’t even bother, or they don’t make as much of an effort to treat addiction as they would high blood pressure or diabetes or other chronic medical illnesses.”
The truth is that overall relapse rates for addiction hover around 40-60%, which is lower than or comparable to other chronic illnesses such as hypertension, asthma, and type I diabetes. This means that 40-60% of addicts achieve long-term recovery. With truly comprehensive care offered by treatment programs such as Alta Mira, however, recovery rates can be significantly higher.
But what does comprehensive care mean? According to NIDA:
Research shows that combining treatment medications (where available) with behavioral therapy is the best way to ensure success for most patients. Treatment approaches must be tailored to address each patient’s drug use patterns and drug-related medical, psychiatric, and social problems.
At Alta Mira, we implement this model in all of our programs. By drawing on a full spectrum of therapeutic modalities, we can create exceptional and effective treatment experiences for people struggling with all types of drug addiction as well as the co-occurring mental health disorders that so often underly drug abuse. Because family involvement can have a significant impact on outcomes, we offer specialized family programming to educate loved ones about the nature of addiction and learn how to develop healthier relationships that promote healing for the entire family. With compassionate, medically-driven care delivered by highly trained addiction specialists, we nurture those suffering from drug addiction and guide them toward lasting recovery.
Alta Mira offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with drug addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about how our renowned programs can help you or your loved one start the journey toward healing.
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