Common Misconceptions About Drug Abuse and Addiction

The saying has been credited to both Mark Twain and Josh Billings: “It ain’t what we don’t know that gets us in trouble, it’s the things we know that just ain’t so.” Whoever first said that (and in whatever exact words), there are seemingly endless things “everybody knows” that “just ain’t so,” filling hundreds of books and hundreds of thousands of articles on “popular misconceptions,” covering every topic in the Dewey Decimal catalog.

The dangers of common misconceptions run the full spectrum from “harmless” to “matter of life and death.” Near the latter end are misconceptions about drug abuse and addiction.


Misconception #1: Drug abusers could quit if they wanted to. When they say they can’t, they’re just being lazy.

Truth: Medical professionals have officially recognized the “disease” and “uncontrollable behavior” nature of addiction for 70 years. While most addicted people bear some responsibility for starting the initial drug abuse, they still need medical treatment to recover. Casting blame at them only makes a bad situation worse.


Misconception #2: “Cold turkey” withdrawal never killed anybody.

Truth: Almost never with opiate withdrawal, provided the patient has adequate hydration and supervision. With benzodiazepines and similar depressants, the risk is far greater. But given the enormous variety of individual reactions and drug combinations, no addiction is completely safe to quit without medical advice.


Misconception #3: Alcohol is different from other drugs.

Truth: Only in being particularly easy to purchase over the counter and consume in measured doses. Intoxication and addiction risks are as real, and as dangerous, as with any drug used carelessly.


Misconception #4: Prescription drugs can’t lead to addiction if taken according to the instructions on the label.

Truth: It’s no secret that many opiate addictions begin with opiate painkiller prescriptions. What’s less recognized is that the problem doesn’t always start with a patient’s exceeding officially recommended doses. It’s never 100 percent certain how any individual’s physiology will react to a new prescription, so in addition to following directions, it’s vital to promptly report any unusual reactions.


Misconception #5: Senior citizens don’t get addiction disorder.

Truth: Due partly to indiscriminate prescribing of opiate-based painkillers in the 1990s, around a million American citizens with substance use disorder are over 65.


Misconception #6: If you can still do your job, that proves you aren’t addicted.

Truth: A considerable percentage of addiction disorders are the “high-functioning” kind, which enables life-as-usual to continue (for the time being) without obvious impairment. This form of addiction allows sufferers to deceive others (and themselves) for years—while long-term damage grows unchecked.


Misconception #7: Addicted people have to hit rock bottom before they can start recovering.

Truth: Of all misconceptions about addiction, this is one of the most prevalent. Would you advise someone with suspected cancer to wait until Stage 4 before seeking treatment? Like any illness, addiction is best treated early to minimize damage.


Misconception #8: If you have a family member with an addiction, the best thing to do is confront him or her in an “intervention.”

Truth: Interventions can be effective, but the form they’re often pictured in—ambushing someone with accusations, demands and threats—rarely accomplishes more than to alienate people. If you’re considering the intervention route, get professional advice and make sure everyone is prepared to stay calm, empathetic and firm.


Misconception #9: Inpatient detox programs are only for the wealthy.

Truth: It may seem that way if all the recovery stories you’ve heard come from celebrities, but there are plenty of low-cost, non-profit and effective treatment centers available, and many options for payment plans. Organizations like. Cumberland Heights provide accessible treatment to people across the state of Tennessee. Ask your doctor or health insurance agent for referrals.


Misconception #10: I’ll lose my job if they learn I’m being treated for addiction.

Truth: Under disability-rights laws, you can’t be fired for acknowledging an addiction and seeking treatment—but you can be fired if an addiction leads to irresponsible or illegal behavior, so you’re better off dealing with the problem before things get worse. You may even be able to put company health insurance and sick leave toward treatment.


Misconception #11: If you get “clean” and then relapse, you might as well give up.

Truth: If that were the case, over half of addiction treatments would be utter failures. Every step forward in life involves trial and error and often some major tumbles, but no one is beaten until they refuse to even try again.


Misconception #12: Only the person with the actual addiction needs to change.

Truth: With almost every person who develops addiction, someone else in the household is involved in provoking it, enabling it, feeling superior because of it and/or wallowing in guilt over it. All these issues need to be dealt with if sobriety is to be maintained for the long term, so the best treatment programs make a point of getting the whole family involved—and healing together.


Truth and the Road to Recovery

The first step toward recovery is being honest: admitting that you do have an addiction and it is hurting everyone; admitting that you can’t overcome it alone and you need help; opening up to treatment professionals about your problem in all its ugly details; coming clean with your loved ones, support network and anyone to whom you owe amends. Cumberland Heights offers a variety of treatment programs to help you or a loved one face the facts and find the best route to recovery. Transparency ranks high among our core values. Overcome these common misconceptions about addiction and contact our team to learn more.