10 Myths about Drug Addiction and Substance Abuse
Common Myths and Stereotypes About Addiction That Stop Families From Intervening With a Loved One*
Truth: Not all addicts use drugs and alcohol or suffer from withdrawals when they stop using. Although it may feel like you have a stranger living in the house, many still function on a daily basis and go to school or work. It could also mean they struggle with a form of addiction that doesn’t involve drugs or alcohol. Addiction includes what we call process addictions: computer games, compulsive sexual behavior, eating disorders, gambling, love, overspending, pornography and shopping. They all change the neuro-pathways in the brain.
Truth: Prolonged exposure to drugs and other addictive behaviors alter the neuro-physiological pathways in the brain in ways that can be seen on brain scans and result in powerful cravings and a compulsion to use. They bypass the part of the brain (the frontal cortex)where morality, judgement and the concept of right and wrong exists. Think of it like “first thought wrong”. A person in active addiction can’t get to the second or third thought where consequences are found and their first thought is usually wrong. It is these very brain changes that make it extremely difficult to quit by sheer force of will.
Truth: Most experts agree that addiction is a brain disease and it is progressive. That doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do to stop the progression of the disease, the personality changes or the unacceptable behavior. The brain can recover if the addictive behavior stops. Depending on how sever the use is, this recovery can begin happening within 3-6 months and can take between 2-5 years to complete. It is important that you don’t wait to for the addiction to get worse because if it continues to progress the damage can become permanent.
Truth: Being anxious about hurting one’s loved one or chasing her/him away is protective behavior that in the past has been labeled as enabling. We believe that it is truly protective and based only on love. However, since research has proven that longterm recovery depends on action and support by family and friends, it is important to exercise courage and commitment to motivating one’s addicted loved one into treatment and recovery.
Truth: An addicted individual will not change until the people closest to him/her take action and motivate him/her into treatment. If s/he does hit bottom and is forced to go to treatment without support from family and friends, s/he is less likely to go into long-term recovery.
Truth: Someone in the family always knows where s/he is and how s/he is doing. S/he is always updated on family information. Recovery of the addicted individual and healing of the family depends on becoming reconnected.
Truth: Treatment doesn’t have to be voluntary to be successful. People who are pressured into treatment by their family, employer, or the legal system are just as likely to benefit as those who choose to enter treatment on their own. As they sober up and their thinking clears, many formerly resistant addicts decide they want to change.
Truth: All families keep secrets. In families struggling with addiction, there are many apparent secrets but family secrets are never really secret because of the close connections among family members. They are only secret from certain people at certain times. The secrecy is always based on protecting oneself or other from pain and loss. Once secrets can be openly shared, families can develop much closer honest bonding. Addiction always starts when a family goes through major, unpredictable or massive loss. The family unconsciously adapts to this loss in an attempt to cope. One member of the family, typically a child or grandchild (regardless of age) carries the majority of the grief and becomes addicted to lessen the pain, loss and grief. The addicted behavior and its consequences detour everyone else’s attention from their own grieving so that they can move forward and maintain the survival of the family. It also keeps the family close as they concentrate on the problems. This closeness prevents further loss. If the addicted individual goes into recovery before the grieving is resolved, s/he will relapse because the family members are once again overwhelmed by their grief. If the grieving is not resolved in that first generation, one or more people in the next generation will become addicted. The more generations it takes for the grieving to be done, the more people will become addicted. In our research, we found that in all families by the 3rd or 5th generation someone in the family leads the family into healing and recovery. We call this amazing drive towards survival and healing “Family Motivation to Change” or to heal and it’s present in all families. What we’ve learned from this is that we don’t have to wait for this natural process to happen, but that we can speed up the process by helping families resolve their grief and move into healing and long-term recovery. As this happens, they realize that the secrets were all based on protecting one another from further loss and that they no longer have to be secret.
Truth: Children always know when something is wrong, they just may not know what the specific cause of the problem is. Each child should be evaluated individually and participation should always be the child’s choice; never something imposed upon him or her. Fortunately, there are programs designed specifically for children between 7-12 where they learn how to differentiate between the disease and their parent.
Truth: Recovery from drug addiction is a long process that often involves setbacks. Relapse doesn’t mean that treatment has failed or that you’re a lost cause. Rather, it’s a signal to get back on track, either by going back to treatment or adjusting the treatment approach.
*Excerpts taken from Dr Judith Landau, Linking Human Systems and ARISE Interention Now, “What is addiction” website