As an active or recovering addict, you know you put your pants on one leg at a time just like people who were never addicted to drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, there is still far too much stigma directed towards the alumni community. I’d like to bring light to nine unfair myths about addicts. Hopefully in some way this can provide enlightenment to those who may be misinformed.
1. Addicts are unemployed bums.
While it’s true that addicts do sometimes end up unemployed and homeless, this is far from an all-inclusive lifestyle. In fact, addiction affects men and women from all economic levels, walks of life, and demographics. Just ask Great Britain’s Prince Harry, news anchor Elizabeth Vargas, or talk show hostess Wendy Williams. There are actors such as Russel Brand, Robert Downey Jr. and Drew Barrymore. Famous authors are far from immune; take Earnest Hemingway, Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King. Many addicts have families, are the primary breadwinners or could even be your bosses. Addiction preys on anyone, no matter their fame, wealth or success.
2. Addicts use every day.
I’ve heard people say there’s no way they’re an addict because they only drink or use drugs on the weekends. When or how often you use doesn’t define whether or not you’re addicted. Instead, the American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a situation in which any of the following factors are present:
- An inability to abstain on a regular basis
- Behavior control impairment
- Increased cravings for the emotional/physical response the substance or behavior offers
- Inability to distinguish serious problems in behavior and relationships
- Uninhibited, defective emotional responses
If an individual absolutely needs drugs or alcohol for any reason, even if it’s not on a frequent scale, it is safe to say that they are victim to an addiction and require an addiction rehab program.
3. Addiction is voluntary.
The first drug or alcohol experience is a choice, but the ensuing consequences may be beyond their control. Often, the substance or behavior has the power to rewire the brain. The brain rewards us with pleasurable chemicals when we engage in life-sustaining activities such as eating, exercise and sex. Drugs and alcohol manipulate the brain’s pleasure center, tricking it into processing the addiction as a life-sustaining activity. Imagine the difficulty of kicking a “habit” that your brain is convinced you need to live.
4. Addiction is a moral problem.
Many religions exhort followers to abstain from alcohol and drugs. Addicts often go to extreme, illegal measures to obtain a fix. Does that make addicts morally wrong if they use or drink? This is a tricky topic, but I will say this; addiction is a disease of the brain, and morals are often powerless to that. The addiction is in control.
5. All addictions stem from mental health disorders.
Up to 50 percent of addicts do experience co-occurring mental health disorders. They are not the sole cause of addiction, though. I certainly encourage addicts to seek the emotional help they need, but they must also take the fight to their addiction. Even if they are deeply entwined, addiction must be treated as a separate entity to be worked through alongside mental issues.
6. Addiction runs in the family.
The National Institutes of Health agrees that genes can predispose people to addiction by more than 50 percent, but the addiction gene is a myth. Personal experiences and environments also play a role in addiction. This could have been exposure to substance abuse or addictive behavior in the family while growing up. Perhaps a colossal trauma or loss that rocked the very foundation of the addict’s life. The possibilities are as infinite as there are human emotions. We must focus on healing and recovery rather than pinning blame.
7. Addicts can decide to quit anytime.
While I’ve witnessed many successful recoveries, it is vital to realize that merely willing the addiction away is impossible. The brain has the addiction confused for a survival mechanism. Addiction holds all of the cards and exerts a dictator’s grip. To break that control, addicts need social and professional support, tools for withdrawal relief, and plenty of encouragement. They need to build a lifestyle that welcomes happiness and health, a clean social network and goals. This takes time, patience and the will to pick yourself up after a fall, no matter how many times it happens!
8. Addicts who quit using are no longer addicted.
I know plenty of recovering addicts who bought into these myths about addicts and thought, “I’m cured. I can drink one beer and be okay.” We all know how this turns out. Addiction never vanishes and will always lurk within you, even if it no longer has control. That is why it is essential to stay vigilant, healthy and mindful of relationships. Not only will this protect from relapse, it will enhance life in every way.
9. Addiction ruins a user’s future.
Addiction can certainly destroy a life. However, recovering addicts are often the strongest, most resilient people I know. They rise from the ashes and discover a quality of life beyond their wildest dreams. Addicts can commit to recovery, learn from their experiences and successfully contribute to society as hard-working, productive individuals with a bright future. Even more inspiring is just how willing and devoted they are to helping others do the same!
I know these nine hurtful and dangerous myths about addicts are only a few of many. However, I hope that education combats ignorance and allows people to view addicts in a different light. After all, addicts are people, too.
By Angela Lambert
Photo by: Phil and Pam Gradwell (Flickr)