Few demographics are as misunderstood or misrepresented as the chemically dependent. In fact, addicts are some of the most negatively portrayed and unfairly stereotyped groups in the media. While a bulk of addiction myths are nothing more than scare tactics, these half-truths have actually made it harder for us to seek treatment and lead some kind of “normal” life.
Thanks, in large part, to the persistent stigmas of addiction, we’re socially shackled to our disease. Coming forward and asking for help means we risk social humiliation and a variety of negative relationship changes – many of which stem from a misunderstanding of addiction. In fact, evidence has shown that one of the top reasons addicts put off treatment is a fear of the social consequences.
But, before we can create a positive change, we must first dispel the myths. We’re ready to come out of the shadows; we’re ready for you to know the truth.
Myth #1: We’re permanently damaged goods
Addicts are not a lost cause. While it’s true this disease will need to be managed for life, we can certainly overcome our chemical dependency.
This myth gives the impression that addicts don’t matter and sets the stage for discrimination by family members, friends, employers, health care providers and the legal system.
In reality, modern addiction treatment practices can help us escape the grip of drugs and alcohol. With the right tools and support, we can go on to do great things in life.
Myth #2: We can’t get better until we hit “rock bottom”
Thanks, in large part, to the rise of televised addiction and emergency interventions, the term “rock bottom” has become ingrained in the DNA of society. The viewing audience sees staged interventions where a “rock bottom” is created for each intended addict; they see most episodes coming to a happy and sober conclusion. Magically, TV addicts are “saved” by these manufactured rock bottoms that come neatly wrapped in a 60-minute package.
In real life, however, the “rock bottom” moment is different for each and every one of us. For some, rock bottom is getting arrested or becoming homeless. For others, rock bottom is losing the love and trust of family or getting fired from a great job.
It’s important to understand that the level of consequences we face before seeking help have little to do with our chances of succeeding in recovery. Rather than waiting for the “proper” moment of desperation, try talking openly and honestly with us.
Myth #3: We want to live this way
This one’s a doozy. Some people can have a drink or two and walk away; some can take a pain pill here and there with no problem. That makes it easy to assume that we all have the same experience and, instead of walking away, we simply choose to spend our days in a state of intoxication.
In reality, we are addicted. That means we have to supply our bodies with a steady stream of drugs or alcohol just to feel “normal” or avoid withdrawal symptoms. For us, every day brings increasingly painful hardships that involve terrible physical, emotional and psychological repercussions.
No one in their right mind would choose to live the life of an addict. It’s a lonely and depressing existence. We feel like prisoners. And no matter how much we try to deny it, we all know – on some level – that we can’t stop on our own. Admitting we’ve lost all self-control is a terrifying thought that is present during every moment of every day. How eager would you be to live that life?
Myth #4: We’re lazy and dumb
Many people don’t know that addiction physically changes the brain. These neurological alterations prompt compulsive actions that can easily be misinterpreted.
We aren’t stupid or lazy; far from it. What we are is wrongly and wholeheartedly convinced that we need drugs or alcohol to survive. We’re in denial, but it’s a form of denial firmly rooted in biology.
Our brains have developed a tolerance to drugs that worsens over time. Eventually, there’s a certain level of intoxication needed to keep withdrawal at bay. In an effort to “stay well,” we do some crazy things to feed our habits. Our drive and motivation is limited to satisfying the addiction. What we do is always in service of a disease that we can’t control. Quite frankly, it’s exhausting.
Myth #5: If we had any willpower, we’d just quit taking drugs
If willpower or the love of family could cure addiction, most of us would be healthy and happy. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.
While it’s true that most of us lack the ability to overcome this disease on our own, the apparent “lack of willpower” is a mere symptom caused by the neurological imbalances of addiction – not the root cause. The inability to stop is driven by the gripping fear of detox; that fear outweighs the logical reasoning and willpower that would convince any non-addicted person to stop.
Myth #6: Punishment is the best way to cure addiction
There’s a huge misconception that punishment can “scare” addicts into sobriety. However, there’s a huge difference between sending someone to prison where the access to drugs is virtually cut off and finding lasting sobriety through recovery. Look, it’s easy to get clean in jail or prison. But, without the tools of recovery, relapse is virtually guaranteed once returned to society.
When threatened with punishments like arrest or incarceration, rational people modify their behaviors. Addicts, however, are living with a disease where the emotional and motivational need for drugs completely and totally outweighs the threat of negative consequences. Again, it’s all related to the neurological changes brought on by drugs or alcohol.
Dr. Alan Leshner, former Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said it best in a piece written for Science Magazine: “If the brain is the core of the problem, attending to the brain needs to be a core part of the solution. If they [addicts] have a brain disease, imprisoning them without treatment is futile.”
In other words, the key to our sobriety generally relies on our immersion in a therapeutic and supportive community.
Aurora Photos: Dennis Drenner, Ron Koeberer, Jonathan Hanson