For those suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, the prospect of treatment offers a vital lifeline that can pull vulnerable individuals out of dangerous situations. However, there is an overabundance of information about drug and alcohol treatment, from what it can do to who it can help to the process itself. As such, It can be difficult to separate fact from fiction when doing research on treatment, which can make it even tougher to make the decision to commit to it. We’ve pulled together ten of the most common tropes about treatment that are either misleading, partially true or just flat-out wrong. Our hope is that this list can help you separate fact from fiction as you learn about the treatment process and decide to get help for yourself or a loved one.
#1: Going to treatment is an admission of failure.
Seeing treatment as a failure to overcome addiction on one’s own is an oversimplification of the addiction process. Addiction is as much a physical disease as it is a psychological one. Additionally, the medical risks of a sudden cessation of use can be extremely dangerous for some drugs. The physiological and psychological changes brought about by long-term addiction are incredibly difficult to overcome through the sheer force of will. Seeking evidence-based addiction treatment is an entirely appropriate action for those who cannot stop on their own. In fact, those who seek drug and alcohol addiction treatment are far more likely to achieve long-term sobriety than those who try to muddle through on their own.
#2: Addiction is a choice.
Many believe that continued use of drugs or alcohol are simply decisions that individuals make. This insinuates that those who are long-term addicts simply value their drug use over all else. While there is some truth in the latter point, long-term addiction is not nearly as simple as this easily reached conclusion. While the initial use of a substance is often an individual choice, the human body’s physiological responses to drugs are a much bigger contributor to the likelihood of continued use than an individual’s desire to use or not use. Psychological factors, such as mental illness or a history of abuse, also significantly influence the likelihood of addiction. To boil addiction down to a question of willpower is, at best, unfair to the individual, as factors beyond their control are far greater influencers of long-term addiction than their own conscious desires.
#3: Detox is the only treatment you need.
While detox is an inherent part of treatment, it cannot address the entirety of addiction on its own. The focus of detox is physical rehabilitation, weaning the body off of substances in a supervised setting; this step is especially important for those addicted to alcohol or benzodiazepines, as withdrawals can cause seizures and even death. Some detox centers do start the therapy process and have counselors on staff, but those are not the norm. Considering the psychological side of addiction is the clear focus of treatment, one could say that the recovery process doesn’t even start until one moves on to the next level of treatment. To increase the chances of long-term success, individuals should undergo both group and individual therapy; this helps people determine the root causes of their addiction and acquire the mental tools to stave off relapse.
#4: The only way to get someone to accept treatment is to let them hit “rock bottom.”
While one is certainly more likely to accept treatment when they have lost everything, it is certainly not a requirement. Many people can find treatment a better option than the way they are currently living; it is simply a question of how that individual is motivated. In fact, treatment outcomes are significantly improved when one enters treatment earlier in the addiction cycle. While the question of motivating someone to go to treatment is more difficult when they still maintain some semblance of a full life, it is hugely beneficial to get them into treatment before they’ve lost everything. It’s a lot easier to rebuild one’s life when one isn’t coming home to scorched earth.
#5: Relapse means that treatment did not work.
Relapse is part of recovery. Addiction is an incredibly difficult thing to fight, and addiction remains part of you for life. It’s why those who get sober are “in recovery,” not “recovered.” One of the benefits of treatment is that when one relapses, one has the psychological tools needed to ensure a return to sobriety. In treatment, one learns about the things that trigger their addiction and receive counseling to come to terms with the underlying causes of their addiction. It’s incredibly more difficult to work your way back to sobriety without this knowledge.
#6: All drug treatment requires religious belief.
This is a very common misconception. While it is true that many prominent recovery resources, e.g. Alcoholics Anonymous, require religious faith or belief in a “higher power,” it’s becoming much more common to find treatment centers that do not incorporate religion into their treatment modalities. With the rise of evidence-based treatment, many recovery facilities today base their methods in proven psychological and behavioral information, not appeals to emotion or faith. While belief in something greater than oneself can be very beneficial in recovery, it is certainly not a requirement. Everyone is capable of reaching recovery, regardless of faith.
#7: If you’re high-functioning, you’re not an addict.
Keeping up the appearance of a stable life does not mean that one does not have a substance use problem. While addiction often leads people to lose jobs, money, friends and family, these are merely symptoms of the disease. Losing these things doesn’t make one an addict; continued substance use does. Further, addicts often work hard to keep up appearances, maintaining work and home life. This is especially true when spouses or managers are tolerant of one’s use and its effects. The appearance of quality of life is irrelevant to the question of addiction; if one is using drugs or alcohol and cannot stop, that’s addiction.
#8: You can’t keep your job if you go to treatment.
While this may have been true in the past, it is not the case today. The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act ensure that individuals can take time off work to address a medical issue without losing their job or publicly admitting to a condition, and addiction certainly qualifies as a medical condition requiring treatment. Confidentiality laws also ensure that you do not have to tell your employer about your specific case. This means you can take care of yourself without worry about social consequences in the workplace. When it comes to getting treatment for addiction, American law is very much on your side.
#9: You can’t get addicted to something your doctor prescribes.
This misconception is fueling one of the biggest addiction crises in recent memory. Doctors can and do prescribe addictive medicines, often painkillers and anxiolytics, on a regular basis. Opiate painkillers like Vicodin and Oxycontin and benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium are highly addictive and very dangerous to stop without medical assistance, especially if used with alcohol. Many people use these drugs for years without knowing their addictive properties. Sometimes, when prescriptions terminate, people may turn to street drugs like heroin as a replacement. The best way to avoid addiction to these drugs is to always be aware of what you are taking.
#10: Drug treatment is a cure for addiction.
The idea that addiction can be definitively cured has persisted, but in reality it just is not true. While physical symptoms of withdrawals can be alleviated, underlying causes can be addressed and mental health can be improved, the tendencies of addiction stay with a person for life. Recovery is a job in and of itself, and staying sober is not something that happens automatically. One must work at it to be successful. Recovery is a process, and individuals will grow and change throughout, even if they relapse. All that said, with the help of treatment professionals and a strong support group, recovery is entirely possible, no matter the severity of one’s addiction.
If you or someone you know needs help with an addiction or if you’re simply looking for more information, please call Starting Point Recovery at (888) 446-9821.
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