What comes to your mind when you think of the assumptions people make about addiction? Pain, sorrow, sadness, family issues, fear, loneliness? Perhaps you think, “Why can’t they get the help they need?”
Of course it’s never that easy.
I found a great article from Dr. David Sack on Psychology Today that lays out five top myths people associate about those with substance use disorders. They are worth some thought as we work together to end the stigma of addiction.
Honest, courageous and insightful aren’t words typically used to describe drug addicts. But if given the chance, many addicts end up developing these qualities and contributing to society in a way they never imagined possible. These successes occur in spite of major obstacles, from the ever-present threat of relapse to the pervasive stereotypes addicts encounter along the way.
Here are the myths Sack describes, summarized in my words:
No. 1: People with substance use disorders are morally corrupt and should be punished.
Many people automatically judge someone with an addiction to be a “bad” person. The stigma may prompt them to assume the person deserves to suffer. It’s true that addiction can lead people to act badly, but treatment is what will help them get better — not punishment.
No. 2: People choose to become addicted.
Addiction is a brain disorder. Using drugs ultimately changes the chemistry of the brain, making it harder to stop using. What’s more, genetics often contribute to whether someone will become addicted, as do environmental factors such as someone’s upbringing and the influences in their life.
No. 3: People usually become addicted to just one substance.
Actually, three or more substances is the norm. People may mix drugs to get a more intense high; they may use one to come down from another (such as using alcohol to slow the effects of a stimulant); or they may just use whatever is more easily available to them at the time. Males, adolescents and young adults are most likely to use multiple substances, which is riskier for them and makes their addiction more difficult to treat.
No. 4: People who get addicted to legal prescription painkillers are different from people who get addicted to illegal drugs.
There’s less stigma against people who get addicted to drugs that can be prescribed by a doctor, but the drugs are just as dangerous as illicit substances. When drugs like Vicodin or Xanax are taken in larger doses than intended or for a problem one does not have, they can have the same effect on the brain — and carry the same risk of addiction — as illegal drugs.
No. 5: There’s a right way to treat addiction, and it usually involves “putting addicts in their place.”
Often, people with substance use disorders are not given the level of treatment and care that people with other chronic diseases (like heart disease and diabetes) receive. Sometimes, even, treatment centers try to use shame-based methods to get their patients to “change.” That type of approach contributes to stigma and makes people less likely to seek treatment. There is no right or wrong way to recover; and treatment centers that are “comfortable” are not inherently bad. Each person’s recovery may look different, and people do not deserve to suffer through their treatment.
CLICK HERE to read the entire article.