Substance abuse is a very serious topic that deals with complex issues of biology, neurology, psychology, spirituality, and more. Because these are confusing items of discussion already, many misconceptions have arisen surrounding substance abuse. It is important for substance abuse counselors to find and take their stance on these ideas. This page is meant to provide a basis of thought and a spring-board foundation to inspire discussion amongst those in the field. There are five main myths surrounding substance abuse. They are as follows:
Myth 1: Willpower – You Can Stop If You Want To!
Overcoming substance abuse and addiction is not simply related to psychological strength. It is not a matter of willpower. This is a misconception often spread by those who are fortunate enough to have the brain chemistry that helps them not succumb to addiction. Dopamine levels affect impulse control and low impulse control leads to substance abuse. Continuous and prolonged exposure to substances eventually alter the way the brain works with the chemicals. Tolerances build, cravings and compulsions occur as a physiological need arises. These changes in the neuron connections and neurotransmitter releases make it very difficult to cease use by sheer force of willpower.
Myth 2: Disease – Addiction is a Disease!
This is almost a political stance to soften the blow of the truth that the addict has a problem related to their personality. This myth attempts to alleviate the abuser of taking personal responsibility for their actions. Substance abuse tends to leave a person in a diseased state. The person may have had a predisposition to addiction. But this is not a disease. Some experts do classify addiction as a disease, but even these experts say that it does not mean the addict is helpless or a victim. Therapy, exercise, medication, and other treatments can reverse and reduce symptoms and changes in the brain and body.
Myth 3: Rock Bottom – You’ve Got To Hit it!
Some people say you have got to hit rock bottom before you can begin your recovery. But recovery can begin at any point during substance abuse. If you have been to Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, you will be familiar with the phrase “Bring the bottom up to you.” That means that you don’t have to hit the rock bottom. You can turn it around at any point. Rock bottom usually leaves a user having associated so much pain with using that they can’t use anymore. This is where quitting cold turkey comes in. Ultimately this myth deters people from intervening with their friends and loved ones early. The longer you wait, the harder it gets to quit.
Myth 4: Treatment – You Can’t Force It, They Have to Want it!
Being forced into treatment is very common place. I’ve personally seen it with a member of my own family, who was forced into it on four separate occasions, and as a counselor at a residential treatment facility, I see it in about 90% of all cases. The truth is that it doesn’t matter how or why a person ends up in treatment. It matters what they do when they get there. After they detox and sober up, they may decide it was a blessing and they may work their treatment fully. Resistance can leave a person when they realize there is no other choice.
Myth 5: Failure – Didn’t Work Before, Won’t Work Now!
We can set this myth aside easily with the saying “Two steps forward, one step back”. Just because a person didn’t recover fully during their treatment doesn’t mean they aren’t on the road to recovery. Treatment is about teaching a person to continue to recover on their own. It is up to that person to hold up their end of the bargain. Recovery includes setbacks. It is a long process that includes relapses. Relapses are usually part of the process of assimilating previously denied emotions and feelings. They are guide posts showing the person they are stepping off course. There is no need to think catastrophically about relapses.
The End to the 5 Myths
Please consider these myths deeply. These are very deep and serious issues that each substance abuse counselor should form a stance on. Discuss it with your colleagues and peers. More importantly, discuss it with substance abusers and recovered addicts. Widen your understanding, always.