What you don’t know can hurt you. More specifically, what you think you know, if it’s inaccurate, can hurt you, especially when it comes to substance abuse and recovery. Whether you are a person who is trying to leave substances behind or someone who cares about a person who has struggled with addiction, it is important to ensure that you have accurate information to avoid buying into hurtful myths about substance abuse and sobriety.
Myth 1: Overcoming Addiction Just Requires Willpower.
If addiction were as simple as putting down the drug of choice and not picking it up again, there would probably be far fewer people in the world struggling with active addiction. In reality, addiction can be the result of a person’s attempt to cope with difficult life experiences. For those who don’t have the skills or resources to cope in a healthy way, substances may feel like the only option. Removing that coping skill can be terrifying.
Also, substance abuse alters the way our brains work, so that we become dependent on a drug to give us chemicals our brain is supposed to create for us. After a person stops using, it takes time for their brain to begin making those “feel good” chemicals again. During this time, they may feel like they will never be happy again.
Not only that, but a side effect of substance abuse is that the person using substances will distance themselves from sober friends and family in favor of being with others who also use. When a person decides to enter recovery, they may have no one left in their life who is a positive, sober support. The isolation and loneliness are risk factors for relapse.
Myth 2: You Cannot Get Sober Until You Hit Rock Bottom.
Carrie Carlisle, a person in addiction recovery who writes for the Huffington Post, points out that there is no easy way to tell when someone has hit their absolute lowest point because what defines “rock bottom” is different for every person. And even for individuals, the definition changes as they seek to put off recovery. Research has shown that the earlier a person is able to get help, the easier it is for them to get into long-term recovery and maintain it. The myth about rock bottom may actually keep people out of treatment and keep others from trying to help them.
Myth 3: Relapse is Failure.
Addiction is a disease. Diseases sometimes don’t respond to the very first plan of treatment. We don’t call a diabetic or an asthmatic a failure if their symptoms return after treatment has begun. Instead, the treatment team looks for flaws in the treatment plan and makes adjustments that will get the person back on track. It is not uncommon for people to need multiple treatment episodes to maintain long-term sobriety. A relapse is an opportunity to learn more about what someone needs to stay substance-free. Treating relapse as a learning opportunity instead of a failure makes it easier for people to admit they have gone off track and to return to recovery.
Myth 4: Medication-Assisted Treatment isn’t Really Recovery.
Thanks to medical science, people with opioid use disorder and alcoholism are able to utilize medications to help them avoid relapsing. While some argue that medication is just a substitute of one addiction for another, this isn’t really accurate. We would never disparage a person for taking insulin or blood thinners to control a disease. Someone who takes medication to help maintain sobriety is still making the choice each day to utilize a legal, prescribed medication that does not get them drunk or high and to stay away from a destructive substance that caused them endless problems.
Myth 5: There is a Right Way to Recover.
Recovery looks different for everyone because each person is a unique individual. If you asked ten people in long-term recovery what was most helpful to them in their journey to get sober, you might get ten different answers. At Safe Harbor Recovery Center, we offer residential programs for people who could most benefit from being at treatment around the clock. We also offer partial hospitalization for people who are best served by returning home each day.
Our whole-person approach recognizes that recovery is not just physical – it requires emotional, social, and spiritual support. If you have questions about addiction, recovery, or the myths surrounding them, our team in Portsmouth, Virginia, is here to help.