Substance use disorder (SUD), is perhaps, the most controversial psychiatric condition there is. This isn’t surprising, as the science behind “addiction” is still not well understood, despite almost a century of research. What’s more, we’re constantly learning new things about it that challenge our previous preconceptions.
A generation ago, its classification as a disease was almost universally accepted. Today, there are a growing number of neuroscientists who think that it may be a form of “deep learning”.Even the way that it superseded substance addiction and substance abuse in the latest iteration of the DSM-5 is a subject of much debate.
And unlike most other psychiatric conditions, the politics and culture surrounding drug and alcohol misuse have an undue influence on the perceptions of researchers and policymakers alike. This causes distortions in the types information that we access and retain.
Given our understanding of SUD is starting to change so frequently, it’s no surprise that there’s a lot of outdated and potentially dangerous bits of information that continue to find wide acceptance, even among some treatment professionals.
Below are a few of the more persistent fallacies surrounding SUDs and recovery. If you suspect that you or someone you know has a problem with drugs or alcohol, our team at Boston Drug Treatment Centers is ready to help.
1.) Rehab is something to be ashamed about
On the contrary. Finding the strength of will to enter and complete a rehab program is one of the most difficult things a person with SUD will have to do. Given the massive social stigma against people with drug and alcohol problems, even admitting one has a problem can be extremely challenging. Committing oneself self to recovery can be one of the bravest things one can achieve.
2.) Detoxing is enough
A detox, whether self-attempted or done under medical supervision, will only remove chemical traces of the substance in one’s system. While this is, in fact, a crucial step towards recovery, it will not do anything about the defective brain pathways created by long-term substance misuse. In other words, the recovering individual will still experience cravings for months or years after detox.
This is the reason why psychotherapy and trigger avoidance education are often recommended right after detox. This additional intervention will help the patient from relapsing immediately after recovery, giving them a better chance at a positive long-term outcome. It should also be noted that early relapses are especially dangerous for people with opioid, alcohol, and benzodiazepine use disorders, as these can be deadly without further treatment.
Unfortunately, health centers and clinics that offer detox or medically-assisted withdrawal in Massachusetts cannot always compel patients to seek rehab. Recovering individuals are often turned off by the relatively high upfront cost of rehab, which causes them to skip this crucial process entirely, often with tragic results.
3.) We should wait for “rock bottom” before helping someone seek recovery
This formerly mainstream idea has long been proven to be a myth. There is no need for someone to hit their worst before you try to convince them to seek professional help. In the first place, how do you even identify where and when a person’s lowest point is? Second, high-functioning people may not hit rock bottom for decades, by which point the damage to their body might be irreversible.
Seeking help early just makes sense. Like other psychiatric conditions, treatment tends to be more affordable, less complicated, and easier early on. Waiting until things get worse just makes it more difficult for individuals to achieve a full recovery.
4.) You can’t cure addiction
The word “cure” is certainly a loaded term. It implies going back to a state before the individual got the disease or condition. You can logically argue that, because substance use disorder leaves permanent effects on virtually all people it touches, this means the condition is “incurable”.
However, this argument completely ignores the fact that SUD is a completely treatable condition, one which an affected person can make a full recovery from, given time. Recovery is usually defined as getting to a point where, even if it does leave some mark, the condition no longer affects the person’s life. Thankfully, anyone can achieve a full recovery from SUD, given time and the right interventions.
5.) It’s all about willpower
This misconception represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what SUD and behavioral addictions are. These conditions directly affect a person’s ability to rationalize beyond what’s necessary to get the fix that they need. When the individual gets beyond a certain point their willpower is as good as nonexistent. It’s for this reason that help from SUD treatment specialists is crucial.
While finding rehab programs that employ evidence-based treatments is important, it is almost as important to challenge our current assumptions about the process of SUD recovery. Many popular concepts have long been left behind by treatment specialists and the scientific community — usually for some very good reasons. Hanging on to these outdated ideas can be unhelpful and may make it more difficult for you or a loved one to achieve a full recovery. Good luck, and stay sober!