Myths About Drug Treatment

A number of mistaken ideas permeate our collective understanding of addiction and addiction treatment. Sometimes people fail to take advantage of effective medications or therapies due to misunderstandings about the nature of addiction treatment.

Dispelling these addiction myths can result in more people getting the treatment they need.

Myth #1: Addiction Is a Choice

Truth: Although the decision to start using drugs or alcohol is a choice, by the time addiction takes control, choice has long since evaporated. Nobody would choose addiction. Addiction is a compulsion that is characterized by a loss of control and a loss of choice. Once a person is addicted, changes in the brain override normal mechanisms of control -- and these changes in brain function and thought patterns make overcoming drug addiction very difficult.

Myth #2: Treatment Doesn't Work

Truth: Addiction remains an incompletely understood disease. Existing methods of addiction treatment don't offer a cure -- and since the disorder is so complex and affects virtually every aspect of our lives, a complete understanding of the disease remains far on the horizon.

But treatment does work, and although no one can promise a cure, people that participate in addiction treatment programs use drugs and alcohol less than people that don't get help. And the longer a person participates in treatment, the better the results.

Addiction is considered to be a chronic and reoccurring disorder. Relapse, at some point in life, is normal, and relapse does not equate to treatment failure. An addicted person might need treatment on several occasions over the course of a lifespan, just as a person with diabetes might need continued medical attention -- but addiction treatment does work and can lead to long-term sobriety.

Myth #3: Addicts Need To Hit Rock Bottom

Truth: Many people eventually decide to seek help after some catastrophic personal event -- an occurrence that is commonly referred to as "hitting rock bottom" -- but no one needs to find their personal rock bottom before getting help.

Drug courts mandate addiction treatment as an alternative to incarceration, and recidivism rates back to drug use or crime are low. In other words, drug courts force people into treatment, and treatment still works!

Many factors can prompt a person's decision to get help. These influences include pressure from loved ones, a medical problem, and threat of job loss. What seems most important is not why people get help, but that they do get help.

Myth #4: Addicts Can Quit on Their Own – With a Little Willpower

Truth: Some drug addicts or alcoholics do quit using on their own, seemingly without assistance. Most cannot, and it has nothing to do with willpower or a lack of it.

Addiction and alcoholism cause physical changes in the brain in areas that are responsible for decision making. Addiction impairs, at the neural level, a person's ability to stop using drugs.

Willpower implies choice. Physical changes in the brain remove choice and replace it with compulsion, an uncontrollable impulse. If someone has no control over what they do, then willpower is not relevant.

Myth #5: Addiction Treatment Doesn't Need to Take a Long Time

Truth: Addiction is a brain disease. The brain can heal from the damages inflicted by drug addiction, but this healing process takes time.

Addiction treatment teaches people how to overcome their compulsions to use drugs or alcohol. These compulsions won't disappear overnight, and they will change in nature over time, which makes them enduringly dangerous to any recovering drug addict.

Longer involvement in addiction treatment helps people to deal better with ever-changing threats to recovery. The threats and worries of the first week of recovery differ greatly from the threats of the 50th week, and a continuing participation ensures that recovering drug addicts stay ready and strong.

Sticking with addiction treatment for a long time has been associated with significantly better recovery rates. People that can stay involved with treatment for a year or more are much more likely to stay clean than people who participated in only a brief period of treatment.

Myth #6: All Types of Addiction Treatment Are the Same

Truth: Too many addicts try addiction treatment, relapse back to drug use, and think (wrongly) that addiction treatment won't work for them.

People are unique, and so are the many existing addiction treatment program. Thus, what works for one addicted individual might not work for another. Finding an addiction treatment program that fits the needs and wants of the addict greatly improves the odds of success.

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