13 Myths about Substance Abuse

 #1: Addiction is not voluntary

We might start out as the occasional drug user, a voluntary decision.  We enjoy the high, we are more relaxed, more outgoing. We are having fun. However, as times passes, this behavior often crosses the line from voluntary to compulsive. Why? The continued use of addictive substances actually changes our brain chemistry -- at times in dramatic, or sometimes more subtle ways. Yet, the end result,  which we couldn’t have predicted, and certainly didn’t want, is drug use which is compulsive and uncontrollable.

#2:  Drug addiction is not a character flaw.

Drug addiction is a disease of the brain, and every type of drug  has its own individual mechanism for changing the chemistry.  Yet, the effects are very similar.  These might include mood changes, problems with memory as well as issues with motor skills such as walking and talking. All of this has a huge impact on  our lives.  The drug becomes the single most powerful motivator in our lives.  We will do almost anything for it. It becomes the focal point of our existence. This happens, again, because the drug has rewired our brains.

 #3: We have to want drug treatment for it to be effective.

No! Not true. Nobody wants to go to rehab. There are two primary reasons we seek out treatment. First, it might be a court order. Second, our families are insisting we get help. Many scientific studies have convincingly shown, that those of us who enter drug treatment programs because we’ve been forced to, actually do better in treatment. It doesn’t matter why we sought help in the first place. It only matters that we recognize the problem, and the need for change.

 #4: Treatment for drug addiction is more than a one-shot deal

Like many other illnesses, drug addiction is typically a chronic disorder. To be sure, there are some people can quit drug use cold turkey, or who can quit after one stint at a rehabilitation facility. But most of us who abuse drugs, require longer-term treatment and, in many instances, repeated treatments. But, there is always hope.

 #5: There isn’t a magic bullet to treat addiction

There is no one size fits all form of drug treatment, much less a magic bullet that will suddenly and miraculously cure addiction. Every person is different; we know this to be true. Therefore, everyone has different drug abuse related problems. This is true even if two people are abusing the same drug. What works for one person, might not work for the other. The most successful approach uses an array of treatments and services tailored to address the individual.

#6: We can’t can stop using drugs just because we want to

It is very difficult to achieve and maintain long-term abstinence. Research shows long-term drug use, as we said earlier, actually changes a person's brain function and chemistry. It rewires the synapses. As a result, we  crave the drug even more, making it increasingly difficult to stop. This is especially true for adolescents. Early intervention is crucial because children become addicted to drugs much faster than adults. They also risk greater physical, mental and psychological harm.

#7: Here’s the good news: Treatment does work

Many studies show drug treatment reduces drug use by 40 to 60 percent and can significantly decrease criminal activity during and after treatment. There is also evidence that it reduces the risk of HIV infection.  Intravenous drug users who enter and stay in treatment are up to six times less likely to become infected with HIV than other users. Treatment also improves the prospects for employment, with gains of up to 40 percent after treatment.

#8: Nobody has to hit rock bottom to seek treatment

There are many reasons that can motivate us to enter and complete substance abuse treatment before we hit bottom. Pressure from family members and employers, as well as personal recognition, are powerful factors to seek treatment. For teens, parents and school administrators are often the driving forces. They can certainly intervene before things spin out of control.  In fact, 17 percent of adolescents entering treatment in 1999 were self, or individual referrals, while 11 percent were referred through schools.

#9: Treatment doesn’t have to be voluntary to be successful

Those of us who are required to be in treatment, by the legal system, can be just as successful as those who voluntarily enter treatment. Sometimes they do better!  They are more likely to remain longer, and to complete the program. In 1999, over half of adolescents admitted into treatment were directed to do so by the criminal justice system. There is always hope.

#10: We all need our own individual treatment plan

A successful treatment plan usually combines a variety of methods to address each woman's specific needs.  These may include; behavioral therapy (such as counseling, cognitive therapy or psychotherapy), medications, or a combination of all of the above. Referrals to other medical, psychological and social services may also be crucial to success.

Furthermore, treatment for teens varies. It  depends on the child's age, maturity and family/peer environment. Successful plans rely more heavily than adult treatment on family involvement during the recovery process. "[They] must be approached differently than adults because of their unique developmental issues, differences in their values and belief systems, and environmental considerations (e.g., strong peer influences)."

#11: If at first you don’t succeed, try again

Not every doctor or program may be the right fit. For many of us, finding an approach that is personally effective for treating our addiction often means trying out several different doctors and/or treatment centers. It can take time and patience, before finding the perfect match. Again, there is always hope.

#12: Follow up supervision is crucial to success

Research indicates a minimum of 90 days of treatment for residential and outpatient drug-free programs, and 21 days for short-term inpatient programs to have an effect. To maintain sobriety, follow up supervision and support are essential. In all recovery programs, the best predictor of success is the length of treatment. Patients who remain at least a year are more than twice as likely to remain drug free. A recent study showed adolescents who met or exceeded the minimum treatment time were over one and a half times more likely to abstain from drug and alcohol use.  Remember, completing a treatment program is only the first step in the struggle for recovery that can positively change our lives forever.

#13: Abusing drugs after treatment doesn’t mean it’s hopeless (there is always hope)

Again, drug addiction is a chronic disorder; occasional relapses do not mean failure. Many things can trigger a relapse: psychological and emotional stress from work, family problems, social cues (i.e. meeting individuals from the drug-using past), or even the environment (i.e. encountering streets, objects, or even smells associated with drug use). Those of us who struggle with addiction are most vulnerable to drug use during the few months immediately following release from treatment. Children are especially at risk for relapse when forced to return to family and environmental situations that initially led them to abuse substances. Recovery is a long process and frequently requires multiple treatment attempts before complete and consistent sobriety can be achieved.  So, don’t give up.

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