Lots of things in life are … well … misunderstood by many. People may form biases, prejudices, and stereotypes out of such misunderstandings. To understand addiction is to take a step toward healing, for the addict and for friends and family. When people believe addiction myths, it is more difficult for individuals to try and recover.

Some myths were once intentionally created to scare kids from using alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Not only has this not worked, it has made it more challenging for people to seek treatment and enter recovery.

Myths that people and society embrace place a stigma on those struggling with addiction and cause obstacles in their recovery paths. Here are 10 myths about addiction:

1. Addiction is caused by a gene.

There is no one identifiable gene which means you will become an addict. Even if one or both parents grapple with addictions, you will not necessarily develop an addiction. Understand that addiction results as a combination of genetic tendencies and environmental factors. Even if you do have genes that cause addiction, you still can recover fully.

2. Addiction is always a life-long struggle.

Addiction is different for everyone. Many people struggle for a very long time. However, many do not take as long. Many people also recover without getting treatment, although treatment is usually helpful. 

3. You have to hit rock bottom.

If this is true, then each person’s rock bottom is very different. Some people want to get into recovery after losing a special relationship, some get arrested, some go into treatment at the behest of family and friends, etc. This is a different experience for everyone since people are individuals and not all alike. Some people are court mandated into treatment, not wanting to go there, but eventually, see the light and recover.

4. Drug addiction is voluntary.

Perhaps one begins using voluntarily or intentionally, but the very nature of addiction is that using behavior can become compulsive and people cannot stop on their own even if they want to. Use becomes uncontrollable.

5. You must want drug treatment or else you will not recover.

Most people who go into treatment do not necessarily want to recover. They may be in treatment because they have to by court order or feel compelled to due to the influence of family and close friends.  Those who enter treatment feeling forced to do so generally fare better in treatment.

6. Addicts can stop whenever they want.

We may think, if s/he loved me, s/he would stop using. This is not true because the drug essentially hijacks the mind and subsequent behavior and the user feels compelled to continue, no matter how much adversity comes out of their use. 

7. All people who use drugs are addicted.

Although many people use substances, not all of them develop full-blown addiction. Addiction develops at different rates and depends on a person’s reason for using, their choice of drug, and a person’s unique traits and physical make-up.

8. It’s easy to identify an addict.

Well, it’s not necessarily all that easy. Many people assume that addicts come from a low socioeconomic background, are unemployed, and are male. They assume that they are involved with criminal activity, and are from so-called minority groups. These stereotypes simply do not hold up to facts.

For example, rates of using among non-Hispanic whites are about twice as many as all other ethnic groups combined. Women’s rates of use are increasing faster than men’s rates, and those who earn between $20,000 and $50,000 annually are showing higher increasing rates of use than those who earn under $20,000.

Addiction affects people without regard to race, gender, sexual orientation, employment, economic status, or ethnicity. Addiction can be found in every neighborhood.

9. If your drug is prescribed, it does not count as an addiction.

This is obviously not true! Drugs used for prescription purposes are on schedules established by the US government based in part on addictiveness. Most people who become addicted to heroin start on prescriptions from their physicians.

10. Finally, if you can work, you must not be addicted.

This may represent a form of denial, both for individuals who are addicted and for close friends and family. People who can use and still hold down jobs are sometimes called high-functioning addicts, or, functional addicts. Remember that addiction progresses differently in people, and not everybody looks like your idea of an addict!

Let’s be careful not to make assumptions, but take the time to get the facts. If you do this, your or your loved one’s chances of recovery may improve dramatically!

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