Addiction is widely misunderstood and yet it affects millions of people all over the world. According to a 2017 study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 29.5 million people suffer from drug use disorders worldwide. Since addiction related disorders are often associated with discrimination and social disapproval, a variety of misconceptions have developed.
In fact, the media often portrays addicts as violent, dangerous people who can barely take care of themselves. However, most addicts are regular people living with an unseen internal struggle. While it is true, addiction is a complicated issue, there is still widespread misunderstanding around it. In an effort to shed some light on the truth, we have compiled a list of common misconceptions about addiction.
Misconception #1 Addiction is a Moral Issue or a Choice
The truth: Oddly, this is still a common misconception about addiction. Addiction is not a choice in the same way that cancer is not a choice. Yes, initially the addict will voluntarily put drugs in his or her system, but what happens after that is a strong chemical reaction in the brain. It creates a craving. Over time the brain adapts to a physiological need for the drug or alcohol or behaviour.
It is not a moral failure. It’s the result of changes in the brain. Some people are also more predisposed to addiction based on biological and environmental factors. The addict is not a bad person with terrible morals, they are suffering from a brain disorder that can be inherited.
Misconception #2 Addicts Should Just Use Will Power
The truth: Addiction has very little to do with will power. It is a brain disease. Diseases are not about will power. Addiction changes the brain, so when people want to stop, if they are indeed addicts, they cannot. And it can take over their lives in very detrimental ways. Their brains have chemically been altered by the addiction and are not functioning properly. Addicts are not weak-minded people, as a matter of fact they are often very strong-willed. The brain is giving them misinformation; telling them that getting high is a good idea. The ability to choose goes away.
Misconception #3 Addiction is Just About Drugs and Alcohol
The truth: While addiction to drugs and alcohol is widespread and well-known, there are many other addictions that fly under the radar. These addictions are known as process addictions. Process addictions occur when a person is dependent, not on a chemical, but on a compulsive behaviour like shopping, gaming, sex, gambling, or even over-eating.
Often times a person’s life will revolve around the behaviour, but they keep it hidden or it appears to be socially acceptable. Take gambling for instance; there are a lot of people out there who can gamble for fun. Millions of tourists head to Las Vegas every year to gamble and catch a show. Not everyone gets addicted, but there are many who do. Process addictions can be as powerful as drugs and alcohol and the consequences are just as severe.
Misconception #4 Addicts are not Easy to Identify
The truth: It seems like this should be common knowledge by now. Perhaps the stereotypes of homeless addicts or poor people as addicts have been burned into peoples’ consciousness. But the truth is that anyone can be an addict and it’s often hard to see. Addiction breaks all stereotypes. No one is exempt from addiction, it can be anyone from the soccer mom next door to the stockbroker to the hollywood celebrity. Addiction does not discriminate. It is an equal opportunity offender that affects all races, classes, professions, ages, genders, etc.
Misconception #5 Taking Pills is Far Less Addicting than illegal drugs
The truth: Prescription pills are equally as dangerous as illegal drugs and often even more subtle. Just because a doctor prescribes a pill doesn’t mean that it’s safe for everyone. In fact in 2015, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that 18.9 million Americans aged 12 and older misused prescription drugs in the past year. About 1 percent of Americans aged 12 and older had a prescription drug use disorder. For some, prescription medication is the gateway drug to more illicit substances.
Misconception #6 Once an Addict Always an Addict
The Truth: The good news is that addiction is a treatable disorder. Addicts who seek help can recover and go on to live long productive lives. Help can be sought through treatment centres, both inpatient and outpatient, as well as recovery programmes like AA, and counselling. The chronic nature of addiction means that for some people relapse, or a return to drug use after an attempt to stop, can be part of the process, but effective treatments are designed to help with relapse prevention. And the truth is that many addicts do recover.
Struggling with Drug or Alcohol Addiction?
If you or someone you know is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, we can help. The Dawn is an inpatient rehab and wellness centre located in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We use cutting-edge, evidence-based treatments and create individualised programmes to suit each client. We can also treat a variety of mental disorders such as trauma, depression, anxiety and burnout. For more information, contact us to speak to our addiction expert now.