While many of our cultural and societal views and opinions have changed over time, addiction and people facing substance dependencies still face a lot of stigma. Much of this stigma is born from inability or unwillingness to understand addictions, leading to a lack of compassion and ill-informed negative connotations.
Michigan has historically ranked above the national average for illicit drug use, ranking at 7.9% of adults using drugs compared to 6.8% nationwide in 2019. While addiction is a serious issue that leads to poor choices and hurtful behaviors, it's important for family members, friends, and caregivers to understand the realities of this disease. Here are six surprising myths and misconceptions about addiction.
It Can't Happen to Me
One of the most common misconceptions is that addiction only happens to certain types of people. While socioeconomic factors and personality traits play a role, addiction doesn't follow a predetermined pattern. Anyone from a seemingly happy stay-at-home parent to a high-functioning business executive can struggle with addiction.
A study evaluating the differences in addiction for the past 50 years indicated that 80% of those facing opioid addiction in the 1960s initiated with heroin. Conversely, 75% of those facing opioid addiction in the 2000s initiated with a prescription drug. Opioid overdose-related deaths have skyrocketed in Michigan over the past decade. According to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation, opioid overdoses increased from 7.5 per 100,000 to 18.5 per 100,000 in the period from 2009-2019. The 2019 national average was 15.5 overdose-related deaths per 100,000 people.
Most modern opioid abusers are not a cliché depiction of drug addicts on the inner city streets but middle-class Caucasian individuals living in the suburbs.
Trading One Addiction for Another
Another harmful misconception about addiction is that Medically-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is trading one addiction for another. In reality, finding a Suboxone doctor could be the difference between life and death for many people facing addiction. The belief that MAT also increases the risk of an overdose or is meant as a short-term "Band-Aid" solution goes hand-in-hand with this myth.
In reality, MAT is one of the most effective forms of treatment for opioid addiction— more effective than detox-based programs alone. MAT has been proven to reduce illicit drug use and the risk of fatal overdoses. MAT isn't meant to be a standalone treatment but rather an effective tool for minimizing cravings and improving results while other treatments are being explored.
Relapsing Is a Failure
Another misconception is that relapsing is a failure and that it's not worth pursuing additional treatment if the first time doesn't take. Addiction is pervasive. While it's important to have a relapse response plan, they still occur. Studies indicate that the relapse risk can reach upward of 85% following treatment, though the risk decreases over time.
There are several factors that could lead to a relapse. Inability to distance oneself from triggering people, places, or events is a common contributing factor. Experiencing unexpected stressors or mental health events also contributes. A relapse is a step backward, but it's not a failure.
Treatment Will Cure You
Another common misconception that goes hand-in-hand with myths about relapsing is that treatment is a cure for addiction. Recovery is a lifelong journey that looks different for everyone. Some believe you can overcome addiction, and it won't dominate your life. Others fight for sobriety every day.
Treatment isn't a cure, but it does take someone out of the depths of addiction to give them the skills and emotional processing they need to move on with their life.
Addicts Need a Turning Point
One of the most popular myths about addiction and treatment is that the person needs to hit rock bottom or voluntarily explore treatment to be successful. However, many people in the throes of addiction can't rationally process thoughts and emotions. Many people who are "forced" into treatment succeed as they can see the value once the substance no longer impacts their thought patterns.
Street Drugs Are More Dangerous
Another common myth is that street drugs like cocaine, meth, and heroin have the highest risk of addiction. However, prescription drug misuse is significantly higher thanks to accessibility. Whereas 966,000 US adults experienced a cocaine addiction and 652,000 US adults experienced a heroin addiction in 2017, 1.7 million adults experienced a prescription drug addiction. These drugs included stimulants, sedatives, and tranquilizers. While men tend to be more susceptible to illicit drug addiction, women are significantly more likely to become addicted to prescription drugs.
Dispelling these harmful myths will help break the stigma around addiction, creating a safe space for people to ask for help and share their stories with others.