Addiction affects so many people in so many different ways. You yourself might be affected, whether you’re struggling with a substance use disorder yourself or attempting to support a friend or family member through their recovery. Myths and misconceptions about addiction can be harmful to anyone affected by this disease, not just the addicts themselves.
Addiction thrives in darkness and loneliness. A sense of community really is the best addiction recovery plan, and trying your best to sort through the common myths about addiction and really understanding more about this disease can help you help the person in your life who is struggling to be sober.
Misconceptions About Addicts
When supporting someone through addiction or seeking help for an addiction yourself, it’s important to break through the misconceptions around addiction to see a real, accurate and insightful look into how addiction works.
Recovery isn’t just about becoming sober, it’s about an entire lifestyle change. In many cases, almost every aspect of the addict’s life needs to change to prevent them from relapsing, and when you place someone into a certain category in your mind (criminal, drug dealer, addict, thief), it can prevent them from reinventing themselves as a better, healthier, happier human being.
“Once an Addict, Always an Addict”
This is one of the more emotionally-loaded misconceptions and it tends to cause some controversy. Many people – those who struggle with addiction, and loved ones of addicts – truly and rightfully believe that addiction recovery is a lifelong process and that the person will in fact always be an addict.
Instead of “once an addict, always an addict”, which can sound harsh, negative and presumptuous – instead, you can say, “There is no cure for addiction, only recovery.”
Active addiction is much different to being in recovery. Think of it like this: if you are a cancer patient who has beaten cancer, you are no longer a cancer patient…but that doesn’t mean you didn’t have cancer or that it can’t come back. Your life will be forever affected by your cancer diagnosis, and there is a very real chance that your cancer could return, so you need to be careful. This is very much how addiction works as well.
Addiction is a very complex and complicated disease, but when an addict is able to seek treatment and implement recovery practices and healthier habits into their lives, addiction can be overcome.
“Addicts Don’t Care About the Effect They Have on Others”
According to a widespread belief, addiction is a selfish disease that makes even the most selfless of people seem like they only care about themselves – but this isn’t the case. Many people think that addicts are only out for their next high, only looking forward to the next drink, or just care about the things that can help them.
When you’re on the outside looking in, it can be extremely difficult to constantly feel the negative effects of a loved one’s addiction and wonder why they don’t change. Don’t they care about you at all? Why do they keep hurting you this way?
Addicts are not choosing their drug of choice over you, because it’s not a choice for them. Addiction is a mental, physical, and emotional dependence that completely consumes people.
“Addicts Are Unemployed/Homeless/Criminals”
Many people who struggle with addiction have families, are able to hold down a job, own a house and pay their bills. These people are often referred to as “functional addicts” and they are far more common than you may think.
In fact, up to 19.5% of alcoholics are considered fully functioning alcoholics.  These people appear to live “normal” lives and could even be excelling in their careers or have happy home lives, and yet still be struggling with an addiction.
“An Addict Should Hit ‘Rock Bottom’ Before They Go to Treatment”
“Rock bottom” is a term commonly used to describe the point in a substance abuser’s life where they feel that they can’t sink any lower and that life cannot get any worse. This can be different for everyone – for some people it could mean losing a spouse or a home; for others, it could be a near-death experience like an overdose.
However, you don’t need to be at the bottom to climb higher. You don’t need to be at your worst to get better. In fact, in waiting for “rock bottom” could put the addict at risk of serious harm or death. When it comes to seeking help for substance abuse, anytime is a good time to ask for help.
Misconceptions About Addiction
Just as there are common misconceptions about addicts themselves, there is also quite a bit of controversy and stereotypes regarding what addiction is, what it looks like and how to overcome it.
Many people have “an addict” built up in their heads to be something it most likely isn’t. A homeless man seeking change on the street or a workaholic turned alcoholic to cope with the pressures of the job…putting someone into a stereotype can be detrimental towards their recovery and can damage the relationship you have with them.
“Beating Addiction is Merely About Willpower”
The causes of addiction are far more than just not being able to say “no”. Many people develop a dependence on painkiller medications and take them as prescribed but still are led to addiction because of the addictive properties of the drug. Many people who struggle with addiction want nothing more than to never use again in their lives.
Addictive substances alter the chemistry in our bodies and brains, making addiction far more than a “yes or no” impulse. Dependency, withdrawal and physical ailments can all be contributing factors that make it difficult for an addict to quit.
“Substance Abuse is The Result of a Bad Upbringing, a Moral Failure or Personality Flaws”
Addiction is complicated, and as with many things in our lives, there was never one single point in our lives that led us to where we’re standing right now. Someone who is struggling with addiction likely couldn’t pinpoint a moment or a choice in their life that puts them on this path. Our lives are a series of choices and once you are in the throes of addiction, it’s not as simple as wanting to be sober or trying your best.
There are a variety of different psychological and social factors that can give a person the false thought that substance abuse is going to help them. Some of these things can be completely out of a person’s control, such as a mental health disorder, a traumatic event, or the loss of someone they loved. Even genetics and family history can play a role in addiction.
“Prescription Drugs Aren’t as Dangerous As Illegal Drugs”
This could not be farther from the truth – in fact, prescription drugs like Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet and Fentanyl are among some of the most commonly abused substances in the United States.
Data from 2011 shows that approximately 4 to 6% of people who misuse prescription opioids eventually switch to heroin, meaning they were first abusing a prescription and that addiction led them to street/illegal drugs like heroin. 
“Addiction Treatment is One Size Fits All/Will Work for Everyone”
People who are recovering from addiction often seek out therapies and treatment centres to help them combat their addiction – however, no one treatment centre is the same and no one treatment plan will guarantee success for the addict.
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism conducted a study that consisted of formally treated, informally treated via Alcoholics Anonymous support groups, and completely untreated alcoholics. 8 years following their initial treatment (or lack of treatment), 46% of the people who chose some sort of formal treatment (like a treatment program or rehab centre) were able to maintain abstinence – while 49% of the people who attended Alcoholics Anonymous on a regular basis were abstinent. 
Ultimately, what this study shows us is that no one treatment plan is going to give the same results. Addiction is a complicated disease that doesn’t just have one road to recovery.
“Treatment/Rehabilitation Centres Are Boring/Like a Prison”
Treatment centres have many things in common, like the use of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), 12 step programs, accountability/life skills training, group therapy, and individual counseling sessions – but there are also many ways in which treatment centres try to incorporate fun and happy living into their treatment plans.
The goal of addiction treatment is to help the individual re-learn negative behaviours and start building a life that is based on healthy choices – and nothing motivates like fun. With things like animal-assisted therapy, game nights, family events and field trips – treatment centres give you many things to look forward to in hopes of making you more motivated and happy to be there.
“A Surprise Intervention Is the Best Way to Get Someone The Help They Need”
Confrontational surprise interventions (referred to as the “Johnson Intervention”) have been extremely popular but are actually not that helpful in getting people into treatment programs. In fact, this usually backfires, causing the addict to feel targeted, isolated, ashamed, embarrassed and even more resistant to seeking help than before.
Instead, having one-on-one discussions about your concerns with the person you believe to be struggling with addiction is a good starting point. Many families arrange dinners or family meetings to discuss what everyone wants (to help the person they love) and how they can help make this a reality.
“Recovery Houses/Halfway Houses Are Not Effective and Usually Lead to Relapse”
Recovery houses (often known as halfway houses) have been extremely effective in helping those who have completed their stay in a treatment facility integrate back into society and fight their urge to use.
A study conducted of residents who stay in popular halfway houses called Oxford Houses all around America have given some promising statistics on the effectiveness of their recovery houses: 87% of their residents have been abstinent after two years, with higher rates of self-efficacy and self-mastery, higher monthly incomes of those who have gone back to work and lower incarceration rates of those who had trouble with the law before entering rehab. 
Photo credit: Grace. This picture has a Creative Commons attribution license.