About two weeks ago, one of my friends since high school passed away from a suspected overdose after a long battle with drug and alcohol addiction. This guy had been very close to my family, and although we hadn’t spoken or hung out in a while, he was someone I cared about very much. I was devastated to hear about his passing. Thinking about it – even writing this – feels like I’m getting punched in the chest. I miss him very much, and I am beyond upset that his alcohol and drug addiction overcame him in the end.
Unfortunately, I am not the only person feeling this type of loss. Over 46,000 people a year die from drug overdoses in the United States. At this very moment, we are facing a huge heroin problem – the drug is cheap, available, and incredibly addictive. In the last few months, I have heard the news that several people I knew in passing died from drug overdoses. I have watched close friends become addicted to drugs, and while some have managed to survive, others haven’t been as lucky.
Addiction is a terrible, terrible disease, and it is something we all need to stay informed about. If dealing with this recent tragedy in my life has taught me anything, it’s that addiction is one of the most powerful diseases out there. Once it takes hold of a person, it is very hard to get rid of it. I don’t want to see anyone else in my position, or worse, in my friend’s position. Learning the truth behind popular myths about addiction may help you learn how to deal with it or how to deal with someone struggling with it. At least, I hope it does. Here are 12 popular myths about addiction that actually aren’t true.
They Could Stop If They Really Wanted ToThe most common myth about addiction is that addicts have more control over it than they actually do. Many people believe that addicts choose the path of addiction, and that they can't stop what they're doing because they don't want it bad enough. Maybe that is true for some, but for most people, it's not. Addiction is a physical thing. Long-term drug or alcohol use alters brain chemistry, making cravings stronger and harder to resist, and destroying will power and impulse control. Genetics also play a part in addiction - in other words, it can run in the family and be something you're more sensitive to. There are neurological differences between people who become addicted and people who don't. This is not simply a choice of "I want to keep doing drugs." There is so much more going on. I know it's easy to get frustrated with addicts, and to feel like they should do more. But many of them try as hard as they can and still struggle. Stock photo © monkeybusinessimages
Every Addict Is A Dirtbag/Bad PersonPeople definitely have a picture in their head of what an addict looks like. Maybe it's someone who grew up in a very poor and terrible environment, maybe it's someone uneducated who never showers, maybe it's a specific race or age. The truth is, anyone can become an addict regardless of what you look like, how much money you have, where you come from, and how much success you enjoy. Would you ever think of Philip Seymour Hoffman as a dirtbag? Probably not, but he recently died from a heroin overdose. Many people look at addicts and say, "But they had such a good life, I don't understand." Addiction isn't picky. It will take anyone, regardless of how wonderful their life seems. Credit: Robin Marchant / Contributor
You Have To Hit Rock Bottom Before You Can Get HelpA very common belief about addiction is that a person must hit rock bottom before they can realize that they need help or need to change. This may be true in some cases, but it's a very dangerous thought process to have. Many people think of "rock bottom" as losing everything, but rock bottom is different for everyone. For one person, it might mean a brush with death. For another person, it might mean losing their life savings. These are very different things. If an addict believes they have to hit the lowest of the low rock bottoms, they may keep doing things until they feel like they've gotten there. It can be a dangerous and vicious cycle that can lead to more harm than good. Stock photo © kzenon
Drug Addiction is Worse Than Alcohol AddictionFor some reason, a lot of people feel that drug addiction is worse than alcoholism. Maybe it's because of the way the media projects drug and alcohol addiction. It may also be because a drug addiction can kill you faster than alcohol addiction can. A big reason people feel this way is that drugs are illegal, while alcohol is not only legal, it's also celebrated. Regardless of why people feel this way, it isn't true. Some research has even found that alcohol addiction causes more deaths than drug addiction - and that alcoholism is worse for you. But in the end, it's not about which is worse. ALL addiction is terrible. Stock photo © blueclue
Addiction Means You're WeakIt's unfair to assume that addicts are weak because they have become addicted to a substance. Anyone can become addicted to some of these substances. Heroin is a powerful drug. You can do heroin once and become addicted to it. It doesn't mean you're weak. This leads to the assumption that people have more control over addiction than they actually do. Stock photo © VeryOlive
You Can Help An Addicted Friend or SO On Your OwnIt's incredibly hard to watch a friend or a significant other become addicted to drugs or alcohol. In many cases, we want to help this friend as much as possible. In some cases, especially in the case of a significant other, we take on that burden entirely on our own. You can't do this. You alone can't help someone get over addiction. Addiction is powerful. Addicts need serious, legitimate help from professionals. Just because you can't do it on your own does not mean you're a failure. Stock photo © RapidEye
There Is Nothing You Can Do To HelpOn the flip side, some people feel like once someone becomes an addict, there is nothing anyone can do to help - they feel that addiction is completely hopeless and there's no point in trying to help someone through it. This isn't true either. Addicts need support from loved ones in order to get better. Recovery is very difficult and such a struggle. Knowing you have support can be so helpful. Stock photo © DRB Images, LLC
If You Can't Help, It Means You're A Bad FriendHelping an addict is an incredibly difficult thing to do. My ex became addicted to drugs, and I tried to help for a while, but it became too much. I took on all of his struggles and I wasn't myself. I was always sad and unhappy and I was putting my life on hold. Sometimes, you have to step back from someone and make time for yourself. This doesn't mean you're selfish or terrible. You can still be there for someone without giving them your all. Stock photo © Chris Schmidt
Once They Quit One Vice, They Can Have OthersI know drug addicts who have quit their drug addiction, but they still drink a lot. I know alcoholics who quit drinking but still do drugs. Honestly, it's not a great idea. Once you become sober from drugs or alcohol, you should be completely sober. If you were once a drug addict, and now you only drink, you're more likely to become addicted to alcohol... and vice versa. Stock photo © Photolyric
Once They Stop, It's Gone ForeverIf an addict can take control of their addiction, go to rehab, and become sober, that's wonderful. But that doesn't mean the struggle is over. Addiction can be a lifelong struggle. It may always be hard for an addict to be without their addiction. They might relapse. They might want to relapse. They might get really bad again, and then get better. Stock photo © elusivemuse
One Relapse Means It's HopelessWhile it can be harmful to say that relapse is a normal part of the recovery process (you don't want to encourage it), it is true that relapses can happen more often than not. A relapse doesn't mean that an addict will never get better. There are people who relapse and then get better for a long time. Stock photo © wragg
If They Seem Okay, They're FineSometimes, a person might seem perfectly fine and happy... but deep down, they're battling addiction. My friend who just passed away seemed like he was doing a lot better. His last Facebook status before he died was "happiest day of my life." His death came as a shock. But unfortunately, addicts may be hiding their inner struggle because they don't want to disappoint anyone - or themselves. Stop stereotyping addicts. It does more harm than good. Stock photo © Petar Chernaev
Do you know anyone who struggles with addiction? Which of these myths did you believe? What did I forget? Tell me in the comments.