Addiction is complex and involves every aspect of a person’s life—and deeply impacts the lives of their family and friends. It is both a medical and mental health issue. The social stigma surrounding the topic of addiction and the callous way it is portrayed in our culture can lead to a lack of understanding and little empathy toward those struggling with substance abuse. The waters have been muddied through years of mistaken messaging. Here are four myths or misunderstandings to think about when trying to understand addiction.
Do Not Wait for Treatment
There is a strong cultural belief that a person will not accept help for their alcohol or drug addiction before they hit the proverbial “rock bottom.” This belief is so pervasive that effectively, it delays the seeking of treatment. However, reaching so low a point in a struggle with powerful substances can be extremely dangerous, as it can often lead to an overdose or other life-threatening situations. It is not at all necessary to let a loved one fall this deep into addiction. The right intervention, support, and treatment can help them early on before their substance abuse issues worsen.
Addiction Rewires the Brain
People with substance abuse problems do not use drugs or alcohol simply because they want to. On the contrary, addiction has re-wired their brain to constantly crave the euphoric feeling a substance produces.
Abstaining from their substance causes an addict to feel abnormal or ill, and therefore, their drug use increases. Typically those struggling with addiction ignore any negative consequences of their substance abuse, even though they are aware of them, and even when the consequences are emotionally or otherwise painful. Truly, the brain is rewired and when looking from the outside, it is best to remember this medical fact to fully understand addiction.
Quitting Cold Turkey is Not Safe
Often people wonder why those struggling with addiction don’t just quit cold turkey, particularly due to negative consequences of varying degrees that are likely around the corner or materializing. Quitting abruptly is usually ineffective due to the chemical potency of substances and can actually be dangerous if the person is addicted to certain substances such as heroin or even dangerously large amounts of alcohol. Addiction is a serious mental health and medical issue that needs professional expertise and assistance to achieve recovery.
Recovery is a Lifelong Marathon
Recovery from substance addiction is a very long and often bumpy road. Remaining sober is a lifelong daily effort. Most of the time, family and friends have the unrealistic expectation that after treatment, a person will be completely healthy immediately and forever, almost as if they merely had a procedure to repair an injury. Instead, it is more helpful and accurate to see the person as having entered a new phase in their life. Despite having overcome a mountain of obstacles, it is, unfortunately, rather common for such a person to have a few small relapses or perhaps require new treatments, or update/learn new coping methods.
Expecting a newly recovering person to be completely healthy is counterproductive to their maintaining sobriety. To be helpful and supportive, family and friends should consider simple steps to help maintain recovery such as:
- listening to the person describe frustrations or problems without giving advice
- helping with various logistics
- if alcohol was the issue, designating your home as alcohol-free
- becoming a fitness partner
- becoming a travel partner
- being supportive of new ideas to aid in recovery
- develop an understanding that the recovering person is ill and not a moral failure.
Getting Help for a Person in Recovery
Many people in recovery add a Recovery Coach to help them manage the future they want to create. Not a therapist, but an impartial, highly trained professional to help a person chart and stay on course. Change and growth at this level requires not only the dedication of the individual in recovery and the love and support of family and friends — it is greatly assisted with the expertise of a coach.