12 Myths of Drug and Alcohol Addiction

image of a genie in a lamp to symbolize myths of addictionIf you have ever experienced drug and alcohol addiction, whether it was your own substance use or a loved one’s, you were likely on the receiving end of opinions from others. US culture and its collective views on addiction are often rooted in shame, degradation, and negativity. More importantly, however, the mainstream conversation is all too often shrouded in myths and misinformation. These myths of drug and alcohol addiction are not only untrue,  they are dangerous for those who are in need of treatment and unsupportive for those in recovery. The misinformation paints a scary uphill battle for those who enter recovery, when, really, recovery is a journey of healing, hope, and self-empowerment.

We’ve collected 12 of the most common myths of drug and alcohol addiction in an attempt to provide alternative language grounded in a more truthful reality.

1. All Addicts are the Same.  Try saying this about any other group of people and you’ll likely be branded a discriminatory bigot.  We know no two people are the same, yet, suspend reason when it comes to people who struggle with substance use problems.

2. Addiction is a Disease.  Maybe, maybe not.  The truth here is that the issue is far from settled.  Anyone who tells you addiction has been proven to be a disease is lying.

3. Most People Fail in Treatment.  Actually, most people succeed – around 90% when it comes to alcohol, and even higher for other substances.

4. Success is Lifelong Abstinence/Perfection.  Progress is success.  Perfection isn’t the goal anywhere else, why do we make an exception for substance use?

5. Shame and Confrontation are Essential to Change.  Making people feel worse about themselves isn’t helpful.  Confronting people usually results in psychological reactance – when we feel our freedom restricted we rebel to establish a sense of autonomy.  Natural human nature.  So substance use treatment is trying to go against natural human nature?  Good luck with that.

6. People Must Accept the Label ‘Addict/Alcoholic.’  Wrong.  In fact, forcing the ‘addict/alcoholic’ label on people has actually been shown to be detrimental to some, which is why the DSM-5 recently abandoned the word ‘addiction’ and ‘alcoholic’ was left behind in the ’80’s.

7. Moderation Never Works.  According to research, about ½ the people who successfully recover end up moderating.

8. Cross Addiction.  The idea behind ‘cross addiction’ is that once people develop a problem with one drug, they will become addicted to every other drug they try. There is no solid evidence for cross-addiction.  However, there is solid evidence for gradualism (aka harm reduction).

9. Addictive Personality.  No solid evidence exists for an addictive personality type, which begs the question – why does this myth persist so strongly?

10. Powerlessness.  We all have the ability to act on the long-term at the expense of the short-term – this is willpower, and it’s necessary not only to recover, but to sustain just about any change.

11. Can’t Recover without God.  For some, God is an integral part of recovery.  For others, God is not a part of recovery.  Either way, the end result of being recovered is great.

12. People Will Be In Recovery for Life.  People can and do recover and move on with their lives, not everyone who recovers spends the remainder of their days in meetings.

Substance use is a highly emotional topic. We need to be careful about the information we spread and the language we use. Many of us don’t even realize that we have bought into and internalized the mainstream myths of drug and alcohol addiction. But, with a little insight, and more compassion, we can create a supportive environment for those seeking help and those already on the recovery journey.

Want to learn more about the myths of drug and alcohol addiction and treatment? See our blog post: 14 Common Misperceptions about Non 12 Step Rehab