A shockingly low number of Americans who need addiction treatment actually receive it – only 2.5 million people out of 22.7 million. There are a variety of financial and emotional reasons why an individual might not seek treatment, but mistaken beliefs about addiction can also affect whether addicted people will pursue recovery. Here are five of the most common misconceptions about addiction.
If you have a career and family, you can’t be addicted.
The idea that all addicted individuals are homeless or struggling to stay off of the streets is false. Many people who have substance abuse problems hold down jobs and have families. They mask their addiction well from family and friends and are referred to as the “functional” types.
- A 2007 study by the National Institute of Alcohol and Alcoholism (NIAAA) categorized approximately 19.5 percent of all alcoholics as “functional.”
- According to the 2010 National Drug Threat Assessment, 8 percent of full-time and 10.2 percent of part-time workers use illicit drugs.
- According to SAMSHA, workplace drug testing reveals illicit drug use in certain industries has reached a height of 19 percent.
These individuals may appear to live “normal” lives and even excel in high-powered positions. However, if their family members or friends take a closer look, they will notice signs of a substance abuse problem. Some of them are:
- Noticeable behavioral changes
- Defensiveness when asked about their drinking or misuse of substances
- Excuses for their heavy drinking or misuse of substances by attributing them to being a necessary factor in keeping up with their job’s demands or networking with clients
- More time spent with other individuals who misuse substances or drink excessively
I can quit my addiction whenever I want.
Willpower alone will not help a person to overcome an addiction. Oftentimes, there is physical and psychological damage behind an addiction that needs professional attention. A person battling a substance abuse problem needs individualized medical and/or clinical treatments, integrative therapies, and mindfulness practices to restore balance to their life. They also need to develop coping skills and to re-establish support from family, employers, and friends — a crucial part of success in recovery. Through proper treatment, a person struggling with addiction will be able to deal with the major and minor issues that likely caused them to resort to alcohol or drugs as coping mechanisms in the past.
I haven’t hit “rock bottom” yet, so I don’t need treatment.
This myth is actually a very dangerous one. Hitting rock bottom could mean a person has finally reached the point where it is too late to get help. Everyone’s “rock bottom” is different. For some people, it could be when they are beginning to live on the streets or have had a nearly fatal overdose. Other people might not need to experience such drastic circumstances. Their wakeup call may just be when they lose a personal relationship or are no longer excelling at school or work.
When it comes to seeking help for a substance use disorder, you don’t need to experience the extreme consequences of addiction to require treatment.
Addiction is a choice that people make.
While the initial decision to misuse a substance may be voluntary, the way a person’s brain reacts to that substance isn’t. Misuse of substances changes the brain, which makes discontinuing use challenging without professional help.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry.” It also lists the following traits of addiction:
- Inability to consistently abstain from misusing a substance
- Impaired behavioral control
- Craving or having a strong desire for the substance of choice
- Dysfunctional emotional response
- Diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships
People who are addicted to prescription drugs are different from people who are addicted to illegal drugs.
Oftentimes individuals think that prescription drugs are safer to misuse, and these types of drugs don’t have the negative connotations that “street” drugs do. The truth is: prescription pills can be just as addictive and dangerous as other drugs. The chances of overdosing on prescription pills are actually higher, especially when taken with other drugs and/or alcohol.
According to the CDC from 1999 to 2014, more than 165,000 people have died in the U.S. from overdoses related to prescription opioids. As the opioid epidemic continues, it is important to keep informing people of the dangers of misusing prescription pills and to try and quell any misconceptions related to their use even if they have been prescribed by their doctor.