Sometimes otherwise well-meaning people can be remarkably insensitive—and more importantly, remarkably inaccurate—when giving advice to someone struggling with a substance use disorder. The journey to recovery is difficult enough without having to listen to ill-informed nonsense about your substance use disorder and what it supposedly says about you as a person.
Whether you are the person struggling or you love someone who is in recovery, it is important to be aware of a number of myths about addiction so that you can reject them out of hand when you encounter them.
Myth: It’s All About Willpower
Some people hold the misguided belief that our individual willpower is enough to help us overcome just about anything. And it is certainly true that we employ our willpower in any number of ways every day. When we pry ourselves off the coach to go to bed instead of watching one more episode of the show we are binging, that’s an example of willpower. When we choose, say, black coffee over a mocha latte filled with sugar and calories, that’s another.
But while it is essential to acknowledge that our own drive and desire to improve can be important in the battle against a substance use disorder, it is equally important to remember that there is more at play than a weakness of will.
While the initial instances that lead to addiction may have been the result of poor personal decisions, the fact is that substance use disorders are worsened by the ongoing negative impact of drugs and alcohol on the brain’s neurological structure. In plainer language: drugs and alcohol change the brain itself and in doing so can make it more difficult—even impossible—for a person to simply overcome the problem with willpower alone.
Myth: It’s All About Morals
Folks who talk about addiction as a moral failing are making a similar sort of case as those who talk about willpower. But in this case, they frequently bring God into the situation. Perhaps they will suggest that if you simply had “more faith,” you wouldn’t find yourself using drugs or alcohol. Or perhaps they will frame their argument around the “bad crowd” you hang out with. If only you spent your time with more wholesome folks, they might suggest, you could overcome your substance abuse disorder.
Now, it is certainly the case that a conception of a higher power, like God, is part of most 12-Step programs. And building a strong network of friends and family who will support your sobriety is certainly important (more on that below).
But as noted in the discussion of willpower, substance use disorders involve changes in the brain—and these very real changes should not be mistaken for divine punishment. Similarly, a focus on someone’s friends as the cause of a disorder is often oversimplifying the situation. Trauma, genetic predisposition, and a variety of co-occurring disorders are often in play.
Myth: Rehab Doesn’t Really Help
Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, some people remain convinced that rehab facilities are not effective in their efforts to help people recover from substance use disorders. This attitude is not only wrong: it’s dangerous.
As we’ve noted, willpower alone is often not enough to help a person overcome their desire for drugs or alcohol. A recovery center offers the safety and expertise that provide critical support to a person working to end their relationship with substances.
Effective treatment centers accomplish this by focusing on the individual and crafting a plan for recovery that is specific to the person in question. The recovery program designed for an individual will take into account a wide array of factors, including those mentioned above and co-occurring disorders, including depression, anxiety, and more.
Myth: Relapse Means You’ll Never Recover
This myth is connected to the previous one. Often people will point to the prevalence of relapse as evidence that rehab simply does not work. But that is the wrong way to look at relapse.
It is certainly true that a relapse is a setback for a person in recovery. But it is hardly the end of the story. With treatment modifications and adjustments to the support structures in place, a relapse can be seen as an opportunity to fine-tune a person’s treatment plan to provide a firmer foundation for sobriety going forward.
Of course, some individuals will relapse more than once, but that isn’t an indication that a person will never achieve lasting sobriety. It is important to remember that recovery is difficult and setbacks are common—but long-term sobriety is achievable.
Myth: You Can Make It On Your Own
It’s ironic, really, that some people who are more than happy to weigh in with various myths about substance use disorders also frequently believe that recovery is a go-it-alone activity.
The reality, of course, is that a person in rehab and recovery must have the support of friends and family to increase the likelihood of ongoing sobriety. That network, however, must be made up of people who are both compassionate and knowledgeable. While it is essential that this group of people support rather than enable a person in recovery, it is also key that no one in the support system spouts any of the myths discussed here. That’s simply counterproductive—and arguably dangerous for the person in recovery.
Reality: English Mountain Can Help
If you or a loved one need help overcoming a substance use disorder, put the myths behind you and seek compassionate, professional help. All of us at English Mountain Recovery are prepared to help you face your problems in a manner that is both realistic and hopeful. Let us help you start your recovery journey in a setting free from stigma and misinformation. The truth is that long-term sobriety is possible, and we can help you get started toward it.