Addiction is a disease that is the subject of a number of myths.
If you have a loved one who struggles with substance abuse, it can be easy to think to yourself or muse out loud, wondering “Why can’t [he or she] just stop?”
The answer to that question is a complicated one. It involves examining the definition of addiction, along with myths and facts about the disease.
What is Addiction?
Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that causes compulsions to use drugs or alcohol in spite of negative consequences. It’s called a brain disease since an addict’s brain structure and chemistry changes due to the influence of drugs and alcohol. These changes can be long-term ones and can lead to negative behavior on the addict’s part.
Once a person is caught up in the cycle of active addiction, they will do almost anything to gain (and keep) a steady supply of their drug of choice. Depending on the circumstances, this can mean:
- Lying about whether/how much they are drinking/using
- Making promises to stop using their drug of choice, and not keeping them
- Stealing money from family members
- Stealing objects from family members to sell for drugs
- Breaking and entering to steal money and property to sell for drugs
Myths About Addiction
Addiction only affects people who lack character or are uneducated.
This disease can affect people from all income groups, education levels, races, religions and creeds. It has nothing to do with someone’s character or morals. Addiction can make someone behave in a way that runs contrary to the way they normally would.
Addicts can stop if they want to badly enough.
An addict who is actively drinking or using drugs is not able to make choices about whether or not they will use their drug of choice. Their addiction is in control of the situation. It’s not a question of willpower or whether the addict wants to quit or not.
Since addiction is a chronic disease, there is no sense in going to treatment.
Many people live with chronic diseases. They get appropriate treatment and make lifestyle changes to improve their quality of life.
Anyone who is addicted to drugs is beyond hope and can’t be helped.
This is simply not true. It’s impossible to lump everyone who has a substance abuse problem into one category and declare that they can’t achieve sobriety over a long term.
Why Addicts Can’t “Just Stop” On Their Own
Most people who are living with an addiction can’t stop using on their own. Getting free from chemicals is only part of treating addiction. If an addict simply completes the detoxification (detox) portion of going to treatment, he or she is at high risk for a relapse.
The person may have gotten clean for a time, but the issues that led him or her to start using drugs or alcohol haven’t been addressed. There is always a reason why a person starts using drugs or alcohol. They may have been looking for a way to deal with some type of emotional trauma, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, stress, etc.
No one ever plans to become addicted. Some people start on the slippery slope toward addiction when a friend offers them a legal pain medication that has been prescribed for someone else. For others, the road toward addiction starts with their own prescription drugs.
Effective drug and alcohol treatment includes therapy that will address the underlying issues leading to the addiction, such as individual and group therapy sessions.
Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Hasin, D. S., O’Brien, C. P., et.al. (2013). DSM-5 Criteria for Substance Use Disorders: Recommendations and Rationale. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 170(8), 834–851. http://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2013.12060782
Heroin addicts are your problem. CNN.
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