The myths surrounding addiction aren’t just wrong—they’re deadly. Lies, stigmas and misunderstandings surrounding substance abuse keep users from seeking and receiving treatment, and cause more people to get addicted. Plain and simple: Substance abuse is a disease that has spread to pandemic proportions. The first step to battling addiction is understanding it.
Addiction is not a character flaw and it does not reflect the moral integrity of the person suffering from it. Medical experts and medical associations agree: Addiction is a disease that has biological, neurological, psychological, social and spiritual repercussions. Like any other chronic disease, addiction is marked by cycles of remission and relapse—and is progressive if left untreated.
Addiction is compulsive and involuntary. At a certain point, the physiological dependance on a substance overtakes a user’s ability to voluntarily quit. Treating addiction like a behavioral problem places the blame on the user and ignores the very real and very dangerous physical and psychological dependence that is the hallmark of addiction.
Once someone is addicted, withdrawal is a serious and complex undertaking. Because substances alter the mind, it can be very difficult for a user to make conscious, rational choices. Furthermore, addiction affects nearly every part of a user’s body, making quitting extremely painful, uncomfortable and even life-threatening. Additionally, quitting a substance without addressing underlying issues—like trauma—increases the likelihood of relapse. In order to quit and remain clean, a person suffering from addiction needs continuous support, and in some cases, medical supervision.
Substance abuse is NOT a reflection of parenting or upbringing. Once someone is abusing drugs, no amount of discipline can curtail addiction. Mind-altering substances are everywhere—in schools, in the media and in advertisements—and so are the opportunities to use them. And as a parent, you can’t realistically be present in every single moment of your teen’s life. The best approach to preventing substance use or abuse is to set expectations, establish an open line of communication, and play an active role in your teen’s daily life.
Many people with addictions are convinced that recovery is a lost cause. On the road to recovery, relapse is common—and it’s all too easy to lose hope. To make matters worse, family members, friends and members of law enforcement often treat them as a lost cause. Many people in recovery from addiction describe their journey as a “three steps forward, two steps back” process. But there are many types of treatment options, and with the right combination of treatment and support, recovery IS possible.
Many people assume that medically assisted detoxification programs will “cure” addiction in a matter of days or weeks. But true recovery takes much, much longer. Medical detoxification is the first step to weaning the body off an addictive substance. But addiction causes long-term changes to the brain that don’t simply go away once the substance is out of the body. To break the cycle, a person must learn to re-train their brain and address the underlying causes of their addiction. For most, recovery is a lifelong process.
Addiction is a complex problem with complex causes—and complex solutions. Most people in recovery will tell you that their addiction was just a symptom of a larger problem, stemming from past trauma, grief, or a feeling of isolation and disconnection. This is one reason why the “tough love” approach doesn’t work. People suffering from addiction need structure and accountability. But cutting them off only intensifies the feelings of isolation that contributed to the problem in the first place. The complexity of addiction is part of what makes it so difficult to overcome, and why positive, ongoing support is essential.
If you or someone you know is living with a mental health issue or an addiction, take the first step toward getting help.
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