10 Myths of Addiction
There are a lot of misconceptions about drug abuse and treatment. Here are a few of them:
MYTH #1: You have to want treatment for it to be effective.
FACT: A very small percentage of people voluntarily seek treatment. People get into treatment for two reasons: either they were court-ordered into it or because loved ones urged them to do so. One research study after the next shows that people who enter treatment in which they face "high pressure" to confront their addictions do better in treatment than those who don't. The reason that they sought treatment in the first place is relatively insignificant.
MYTH #2: People don't need treatment. They can stop using drugs if they really want to.
FACT: People who are addicted find it extremely difficult to achieve and maintain long-term abstinence. Long-term drug abuse actually changes a person's brain function, causing them to crave the drug even more over time. In the case of teenage drug abuse, it is absolutely critical to intervene and stop substance abuse as early as possible. This is because children become addicted much faster than adults. Consequently, they risk greater physical, mental, and psychological harm from illegal drug use.
MYTH #3: You have to hit "rock bottom" in order for treatment to be effective.
FACT: There are many things that can motivate a person to complete substance abuse treatment before they hit bottom. For teens, parents and the schools are often the driving forces in getting them into treatment once problems at home or in school develop. Pressure from family members and employers can be powerful motivating factors for individuals seeking treatment.
MYTH #4: Drug addiction is voluntary behavior.
FACT: Drug use starts as voluntary behavior. That's a fact. But as time passes, the brain changes. The person goes from being a voluntary drug user to a compulsive drug user. Sometimes this happens in very dramatic ways, and sometimes it happens in very subtle, slow ways. The end result is that drug abuse becomes compulsive behavior; the use is out of control and sometimes even uncontrollable.
MYTH: #5: Treatment just doesn't work.
FACT: Treatment can help people. Studies show that treatment reduces drug use by 40 to 60 percent and can significantly decrease criminal activity during and after treatment. There is also evidence that drug addiction treatment reduces the risk of HIV infection and improves the prospects for employment, with gains of up to 40 percent after treatment.
MYTH #6: Treatment for drug addiction should be a one-shot deal
FACT: Addiction tends to be a progressive, chronic, and pervasive disease. Certainly some people can quit after deciding to or after entering a treatment program. But most of those who have a drug abuse or drug dependent disorder require longer-term treatment and, in many cases, repeated treatments.
MYTH #7: Drug addiction is a moral problem, a character flaw.
FACT: Drug addiction is a brain disease. Changes in the brain range from changes in the molecules and cells that make up the brain, to mood changes, to changes in memory processes and in such motor skills as walking and talking. And these changes have a huge influence on all aspects of a person's behavior. The drug becomes the single most powerful motivator in a drug abuser's life. He or will do almost anything for the drug. This happens because drug use has changed the person's brain and its functioning in critical ways. (See Addiction--The Hijacked Brain)
MYTH #8: You can't force someone into treatment.
FACT: Treatment does not have to be voluntary. People forced into treatment by the legal system can be just as successful as those who enter treatment voluntarily. Actually, they sometimes do better, as they are more likely to remain in treatment longer and complete the program. Nearly half of the teens in treatment are there because of the criminal justice system.
MYTH #9: People can successfully finish drug abuse treatment in a couple of weeks if they're truly motivated.
FACT: Research indicates a minimum of 90 days of treatment for outpatient drug-free programs and residential programs, and 21 days for a short-term inpatient program to have an effect. To maintain the treatment effect, followup supervision and support are essential. In all recovery programs the best predictor of success is the length of treatment. Clients who remain at least a year or more than twice as likely to remain drug free, and a recent study showed teens who met or exceeded the minimum treatment time were over one and a half times more likely to abstain from drug and alcohol use. However, completing a treatment program is merely the first step in the struggle for recovery that can extend throughout a person's life.
MYTH #10: Drug addicts are hopeless.
FACT: Drug addiction is a chronic disorder; relapse does not mean failure. A relapse can be triggered by so many things: playgrounds where they have used previously, playmates that they have used with previously, and playthings that trigger subconscious memories, in addition to family problems, work stress, and school stress. Recovery is a long process and frequently requires multiple treatment attempts before complete and consistent sobriety can be achieved.
Sources: National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institute of Health; Dr. Alan I. Leshner, former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse; “The Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide” (October 1999); The Partnership for a Drug-Free America.