10 Crazy Myths About Addiction You Need to Know


Table of Contents

Myth #1 Addiction is a Choice

False. This is possibly one of the biggest myths about drug addiction. The first time you decide to use an addictive substance is a choice. The addiction that follows is not.

Often, that first decision to try drugs is at a point in an individual’s life where they can’t even make sound decisions.

From the first use, the brain is experiencing massive changes. The brain is becoming hijacked and rewired. For most people, their ideal vacation day ranks at 100% on the happiness meter.

Chemicals in the brain govern your happiness meter. When you are experiencing your perfect vacation day, all the happy chemicals are in play.

Your brain is happy and rewarding you for taking a well-deserved break.

When someone uses a substance for the first time, the brain is confused. The brain ranks the drug at 500% on the happiness scale.

Your mind decides you feel better than any vacation day ever experienced. When you get home from your perfect vacation, you start dreaming about your next trip.

When someone uses a substance for the first time, they crave the next time they can use the substance when they return to “normal.”

The difference is, the brain is now altered. Now, the perfect vacation day is only a 25% happiness level, and using the drug is a 100% happiness level.

And with every use, the ideal vacation day becomes lower and lower on the scale as tolerance builds. Science has proven addiction is a brain disease that can affect anyone.

Researchers have also found genetic traits that trigger addiction.

What we know today is about half the risk of being an addict genetic. The ability to quit is also hereditary. Roughly 54% of people who have an addiction will struggle to become substance-free because of genetics.

TED Talk: Johann Hari – Everything You Know About Addiction is Wrong


Myth #2 “They Could Just Stop if They Really Wanted To”

This myth is particularly damaging to idea of getting treatment. Will power alone is simply not enough to stop an addiction. 

Research shows that substance abuse rewires the brains pathways, making the brain think that it needs the substance to sustain life. This is where the strong cravings and lack of impulse control comes from.

An addicts brain can go back to normal in a lot of cases, however this process takes time. Being in a controlled environment like a rehab, will give them the time away from the substance they are addicted to for the brain to start to function normally. It is extremely difficult for an addict to do this on his or her own.

Myth #3 “They Must Hit Rock Bottom Before Getting Help”

Well, that depends. The phrase “hit rock bottom” describes the point when you feel like you have nothing to lose. However, everyone has a different perception of how rock bottom looks or feels like to them. You have to know what rock bottom looks like for you or the person you know struggling with addiction.

The sad truth is that death frequently comes before hitting that bottom. People who struggle with addiction have died while their families sat and patiently waited for them to hit their “bottom”.

And because “Rock Bottom” is subjective (meaning, it varies from person to person) it’s hard to know what it even looks like.

Those who struggle with addiction don’t see they have a problem until it’s too late. For others, rock bottom is the first time they get arrested for a DUI. Or when Child Protective Services comes knocking to do a welfare check on their children. For some, it’s losing their job or relationships with friends and family. Everyone’s rock bottom is different.

Not to mention, believing the addiction isn’t a problem until hitting rock bottom is dangerous. Someone can have a slight addiction. They might live right on the edge of rock bottom, never looking for treatment.

In their mind, addiction might not be a problem until there’s a severe consequence. Most importantly, it’s not necessary to wait until hitting rock bottom to get help. Deciding to continue using until you hit rock bottom can make the road to recovery harder in the end. It’s best to get help when you recognize substance abuse symptoms, not waiting until you see the bottom.

Myth #4 “Most Addicts Are Just Bad People”

Addiction is a disease; an addict is not a bad person he or she is a sick person. Someone who is addicted to a substance may do some things that are considered bad, or questionable to most people, but that doesn’t make him or her a bad person.

Once the brain has rewired obtaining the substance becomes the most important thing to the addict, leading him or her to make some bad choices.

Part of the recovery process accepting that they were powerless, is owning the mistakes and bad choices they have made, forgiving themselves, and making amends to those that have been harmed by them.
Many times the friends and family members have issues due to their loved one’s actions that will need to be worked through as well.

However, holding a grudge or trying to make an addict feel guilty for things he or she did when using will not help the situation. There are many facilities that offer family therapy to help mend the bridges that the addiction has weakened.

Myth #5 “Having an Addiction Makes You a Criminal”

Just over 100 years ago, drugs were being banned. The thought was, if we punish people for using drugs, they will stop. These decisions were the start of people judging those who struggle with addiction as criminals. As a society, we are taught to believe they are criminals.

When someone gets caught with an addictive substance in their system, they are sent to court and given a criminal record. Depending on the charges this makes becoming a productive member of society very difficult.

One hundred years later, we know those with an addiction are likely self-medicating an underlying mental health issue. Many times, the person with addiction found relief in the substance they are abusing.

Sending someone to jail for abusing a substance is like sending someone seeking treatment for depression to jail. At the end of their prison sentence, they are no better off than when they went in. They still have underlying mental health issues.

They still struggle with addiction. And they may have a new mental health issue to self-medicate from their time serving out the sentence.

For a long time, we have deemed jail the appropriate way to treat addiction as a society. In Portugal, they legalized all substances nearly two decades ago. Instead of spending their money on criminalizing addicts, they used the money to support addicts.

They gave companies loans to help pay the wages of an addict. Portugal soon learned how important it was for an addict to feel they have a purpose in life. To have hopes, dreams, goals, and human connection instead of being stigmatized.

Lastly, remember while you may have done criminal things while abusing a substance, addiction alone is not enough to make you a criminal.

Myth #6 “An Addicted Person Must Want Help for it to Work”

It is true that treatment works faster for those that want it, but people who are made to go into treatment can still be successful in getting clean or sober.

Going through treatment can open the addict’s eyes to the fact that they have a problem and from that point, the recovery process starts. For those who aren’t at the point where they want recovery, the first week or two may be challenging.

As time passes, those who are in treatment slowly begin to see the merit in becoming clean and sober. Oftentimes, it’s a matter of waiting until drugs are out of the system and clouding an individual’s judgment.

Many recovery success stories started with a person who didn’t want to go to treatment for their problem.

Myth #7 “Addicts Lack Willpower”

Willpower is rarely enough when it comes to addiction. At this point, we know addiction is a brain disease and not a matter of willpower. Will has little to do with quitting substance abuse.

Substance abuse causes a physiological change in the brain.

In their heart of hearts, they wish this would all be over. They envy those without an addiction. Many times, someone with addiction would like to stop using but don’t know how. Or they’re afraid of the withdrawal.

A person struggling might hear all the rules behind getting clean and feel so overwhelmed they aren’t sure they can successfully complete treatment. Years of negative internal dialogue may tell them this is just another thing they’re going to fail. Why would anyone attempt something they were sure they were going to fail?

Even worse, some may try to become substance-free, thinking all they need is willpower. Willpower seems to be enough until the withdrawal symptoms kick in. For many with addiction, withdrawal is painful. There are moments where an individual going through withdrawal genuinely feels they might die.

Using again seems to be the only answer and the cycle continues.

The bottom line: The brain is hijacked by a substance. The brain operates through the means of the drug of choice as a way to feel happy. Add a co-occurring disorder into the mix and you’ve got yourself a complex problem. Underlying mental health conditions are often the reason they start using in the first place.

Myth #8 “If They Relapse, it Means They’ve Failed”

Absolutely not. Relapse does not equal failure, just like with many other diseases one treatment might not be enough to get control of it. No one calls a patient with a relapsing physical disease and tells them they’ve failed.

Recovery is hard and there are many things that can happen in life to trigger someone to use. Sometimes it takes going into treatment multiple times before consistent sobriety can be obtained. Relapse doesn’t always mean having to start all over from the beginning.

Myth #9 “People Who Are Addicted Need Tough Love”

Mostly false. Tough love is an expression used for describing coming down hard on someone. Like many ways of treating someone, tough love has a spectrum. On one end is a place with firm boundaries. On the other end of the spectrum is abusive behavior, often seen as a reason to humiliate, belittle, or physically control another person.

In general, it has been agreed upon that a tough-love approach to someone suffering from an addiction is harmful. While tough love can have a place in some recovery methods, it’s essential to discuss this behavior with an addiction treatment specialist before implementing this form of treatment.

Addiction treatment specialists have an endless supply of experience. They often have a sixth sense about what will and won’t be effective in each case. For many addicts, there isn’t anything you can say to them that wouldn’t be harsher than their internal self-talk.

Most addicts have an underlying mental health disorder already distorting their perception of the world before abusing substances. Coming down hard on an addict only confirms the negative self-talk they already believe about themselves.

Someone with an addiction will often turn to a substance to cope with stress. In many cases, the stress from tough love triggers someone with a history of substance abuse to continue using drugs or alcohol.

Myth #10 “Rehab is a Cure for Addiction”

If any substance abuse treatment center claims to be a “cure-all” for addiction, that’s a huge red flag! The truth is, there is no cure for addiction. It is a condition that must be maintained through a recovery and relapse prevention plan.

Addiction treatment centers can help you to regain control and relearn how to live your life without using. It is something that you will have to work on daily, then after a time it will become more like second nature.

Sources of Information

[1] Drugabuse.gov
[2] Psych Central
[3] Codependency and Addiction Guide

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