There’s no shortage of myths and half-truths when it comes to treatment programs for drug and alcohol addiction. Below are some of the most common myths along with facts to debunk them.

MYTH #1

“An addicted person should only have to go through treatment once. Relapsing means the program didn’t work.”

Addiction is just like any other disease that can emerge again after going into remission. It may be that the addicted person needs a different type of treatment program that offers more intense or rehabilitation.

Remember that addiction is a complicated disease that often involves behavior that has become deeply rooted in a person’s psyche. It’s not uncommon for people to attend treatment more than once before they fully recover.

MYTH #2

“Alcohol and chemical dependency treatment is for weak people. It shouldn’t be necessary if people would just have enough willpower.”

No one would expect a person with cancer or diabetes to overcome their disease through willpower alone. It’s the same way with addiction.

Even though drinking or using for the first time is a choice, it quickly turns into an uncontrollable compulsion for those who are prone to addiction. It’s not enough to just stop drinking or taking drugs.

Treatment is necessary to address the multiple issues often present in addiction such as trauma, employment problems, relationship stress, financial difficulties, nutritional deficiencies, and new health problems that developed due to the addiction.

MYTH #3

Talk therapy is the only effective way to treat addiction.”

Every person with chemical or alcohol addiction is different. Some only require individual and group therapy to recover while others need greater intervention.

For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends that doctors prescribe medication to people addicted to opioids before they complete other parts of a treatment program.

Prescription drugs can help to control cravings and reduce the intensity of symptoms caused by drug or alcohol withdrawal.

Common medications for opioid withdrawal include: Buprenorphine, Lofexidine, Methadone, and Naltrexone. Acamprosate, Disulfiram, and Naltrexone are typical prescriptions for alcohol withdrawal.

MYTH #4

“Detoxification and rehabilitation for drug or alcohol addiction are the same thing.”

People who have used drugs or alcohol heavily for many years often require detox as the first phase of their recovery program. This stops the body’s physical and emotional dependence on alcohol or the person’s drug of choice.

While a critical part of recovery for some addicted people, detox differs from attending an inpatient or outpatient treatment program.

Resetting the neurochemical balance in the brain and body makes it possible to engage in the hard work of completing a treatment program. Treatment addresses entirely different issues such as identifying triggers that lead to drinking or using and developing strategies to deal with strong compulsions. It also encompasses things already mentioned like financial and social pressure.

MYTH #5: Drug or alcohol addiction is strictly a genetic problem.

Sadly, some people never seek proper treatment because they believe they are destined to suffer from addiction due to a genetic predisposition. While there is a proven link between addiction and genetics, DNA is not the only thing that increases the likelihood of becoming addicted. Environmental influences can be equally to blame, if not more so.

For example, a child who grows up in a chaotic home and experiences abuse and neglect is at risk of becoming addicted as an adult even with no genetic pre-disposition to it. Rather than focus on nature vs. nurture, it’s better to look at the whole picture to see how both play an important role. Many treatment programs use a whole-person approach, which means that the program addresses all factors that lead to addiction and not just the physical components.

MYTH #6: People who use drugs will suffer from permanent brain damage even with treatment.

Many Americans developed an unrealistic perception of drug addiction from the War on Drugs that started in the late 1980s. One campaign in particular, the commercial that showed an egg in a frying pan with the message “this is your brain on drugs”, likely contributed to the misinformation. People who don’t struggle with addiction sometimes have the mistaken notion that continued use of drugs will have a permanent effect on mental health and cognitive abilities. The truth is that damage caused by drugs or alcohol affecting any of the body can disappear entirely several months into sobriety.

MYTH #7: It’s not possible to get addicted to prescription drugs.

This is a dangerous myth. Not only is prescription drug addiction possible, it’s also common. Here are some of the most frequently abused prescription drugs:

  • Benzodiazepines including Valium and Xanax
  • Opioids including OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet, and Vicodin
  • Sleep medications including Ambien and Lunesta
  • Stimulants including Adderall, Dexedrine, and Ritalin

It’s even possible for people to abuse and become addicted to non-prescription medications. Cough medications are a typical example. People addicted to prescription or over-the-counter drugs need treatment just as much as those addicted to alcohol or illegal street drugs.

MYTH #8: Involuntary treatment doesn’t work because people must want to get better on their own.

Many people come into treatment against their will and still achieve lasting sobriety. They may have forced into treatment by the local court or agreed to it reluctantly after family or friends staged an intervention. How people get to treatment is not nearly as important as the benefit addicted people get by going through a program.

Another myth along these same lines is that treatment won’t work until an addicted person hits rock bottom. The problem with this is that rock bottom means something different to everyone. It isn’t necessary to face criminal charges, lose a job, become homeless, or get divorced to seek drug or alcohol treatment. In fact, it’s becoming more common for people to seek help once they realize that they have slipped from occasional use to addiction.

If you struggle with addiction, we hope this factual information will encourage you to seek the treatment you need to achieve lasting sobriety.

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