When a person struggles with substance abuse or addiction, they often try and fail repeatedly to stop taking intoxicating substances. It is hard enough to struggle with a chronic disease like addiction and seek help; doing it alone can feel virtually impossible – and it is for many people. Reaching out for help can make all the difference in the world, allowing people to reach recovery and a newfound freedom in life.
However, there are several myths about treatment that can make seeking help even more difficult. Treatment is an important step to managing and overcoming an addiction, so understanding why these myths are wrong is important.
- Anyone can stop taking drugs if they have the willpower.
Some people believe that taking an intoxicating substance is voluntary. Others believe that simply ceasing to take a drug and going through withdrawal means they have conquered their addiction. Some mistakenly believe that cravings are manageable without help. No one expects a person to stop suffering from asthma just via willpower; people struggling with addiction have a chronic illness that requires help from medical professionals to manage.
- Detox is the same as rehabilitation.
Detox is the first step in any substance abuse treatment program, but it is not the only step. Ending the body’s dependence on a substance helps to end withdrawal symptoms and allows the brain to begin to stabilize neurotransmitters. However, addiction includes compulsive behaviors, emotional triggers, environmental concerns, and even genetics. Therapy through a rehabilitation program after successfully going through withdrawal will help people learn about the underlying causes of their addiction, so they can manage their behaviors and cravings, as well as their physical need for an intoxicating substance.
- Rehabilitation cures addiction.
Addiction is a chronic illness; this is no cure, though it can be effectively managed. The symptoms can be managed and overcome, but this means treatment for several weeks or months, and ongoing therapy and social support for years after to stay sober. Cravings for an intoxicating substance can occur spontaneously, and relapse can happen even years after successfully completing a treatment program. None of this should discourage people who struggle with addiction, because addiction can be successfully managed on a long-term basis.
- A person should only need to go to a rehabilitation program once.
Drug addiction treatment programs are time-consuming, requiring detox, therapy, support group participation, and more. However, going through a treatment program several times doesn’t indicate that a person is not overcoming their addiction. As with other chronic illnesses, ongoing help is necessary, and that includes periods of feeling better and periods of relapse. People working to overcome their addiction may need to undergo more intense rehabilitation or therapy at different times in their lives. A return to treatment is often a stepping-stone on the road to full recovery.
- Treatments that involve medication are just replacing one addiction with another.
Prescription medications constantly feature a warning that the person taking the medication should speak with their doctor about past addiction treatment or substance abuse problems. This statement, however, does not mean that people who are going through treatment for addiction cannot receive other medications; it only means that doctors should monitor patients for potential addictive behaviors. Many people entering a treatment program need medications to help them detox safely. For people overcoming opioid addiction, this might include tapering their physical dependence with buprenorphine; for people overcoming alcohol abuse, this might mean low doses of benzodiazepines to prevent seizures and delirium. Medical professionals prescribe these medications, and the individual taking them is closely monitored so they do not begin to struggle with another addiction.
- A person must hit “rock bottom” before they can go into treatment.
The term rock bottom implies different situations for different people. For some, it is surviving an overdose, while for others, it is losing relationships with loved ones, being fired from a job, losing their home, or worse. It is more important for a person to seek help as soon as they realize they are struggling with an addiction. This could occur when a person is managing a happy family life and a successful career, when they are experiencing chronic homelessness, or when they suffer mental health issues alongside their substance abuse problems. Waiting too long to seek help can be dangerous or even deadly.
- Treatment only works for people who want it.
While it is important for the person in a treatment program to be engaged with the process, few people enter rehabilitation programs because they want to. In some cases, family and friends stage an intervention, while in other cases, a court or doctor’s order forces the individual into a treatment program. However, people who enter treatment can benefit from the process, regardless of how much they want to be there.
- Relapse is failure.
Relapse might be frustrating or discouraging, both for the person struggling with their addiction, and for their friends and family. However, it is an expected part of substance abuse treatment. While rehabilitation programs work to reduce the possibility of relapse, like other chronic illnesses, there are periods where symptoms increase or change. The person will need to re-enter treatment or adjust their treatment plan to overcome a relapse. For people with diabetes, for example, changes in insulin levels can be considered a form of relapse and require going to the doctor to develop a new approach to treatment. People who struggle with alcohol abuse, for example, might drink a beer and begin to suffer intense cravings for more. They may be unable to control their behavior and become intoxicated further. This does not mean they have failed; instead, it means they need to revisit their doctor and recommit to treatment.
- One type of addiction treatment should work for everyone.
There are some basic patterns that work as a map for treatment for anyone. These include speaking with a doctor, undergoing detox, entering a rehabilitation program for at least 90 days, and getting social support for sobriety via support groups and/or therapy. That said, with so many different substances that can trigger addiction and so many differences between individuals, it does not make sense for one type of treatment to work for everyone. People entering treatment have different personal histories, different triggers for cravings, and, often, polydrug abuse histories or co-occurring mental illnesses, which also need treatment. Working with a treatment professional to develop a personal treatment plan, which may involve medication to manage withdrawal or mental health issues, different styles of therapy, or philosophical or religious approaches to treatment, is the most effective for treating the whole person on an individual basis.
- Teenagers are too young to need treatment.
Preteens, teenagers, and young adults are groups that often experiment with different types of intoxicating substances, and for some of these individuals, the experiment becomes an addiction. Anyone at any age can struggle with addiction to any intoxicating substance, and it is just as important for children and young adults to get help as it is for other age groups.
Treatment for drug addiction involves many factors: withdrawal, medication to manage medical and psychological issues, treatment of co-occurring disorders, individual and group therapy, support groups, and social support from family, friends, mentors, sponsors, and more. Recovery is a lifelong commitment.
Addiction is a chronic illness, so like other chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or asthma, addiction needs consistent management and monitoring. Understanding the myths that create a barrier to treatment means that more people can successfully undergo treatment and achieve lasting recovery.