Some common misconceptions about addiction can be damaging. Learn why drug & alcohol addiction isn’t a moral failing.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, you’ve probably heard a lot of well-meaning advice from people who don’t truly understand. This makes it difficult to sort out the facts about drug abuse from fiction.

Clearing the air about addiction myths can help people better understand the realities of substance use and offer more compassionate assistance to those in need. Here are nine myths about addiction that you might believe — and the realities behind these thoughts:

Myth #1: If you have an addiction, you don’t have enough willpower.

For centuries, addiction has been seen as a moral failing. The common belief has been that those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol simply aren’t strong enough to overcome it. Some people believe that there is something inherently wrong with a person who struggles with addiction.

Today we understand addiction very differently. Modern science has shown that addiction is a disease, not a choice.

If you are living with an addiction, it doesn’t mean you’re weak. It simply means you need help. Finding a medical treatment plan or recovery support community can help you heal.

Myth #2: Prescription drugs are safe drugs.

When used under a doctor’s supervision, prescription drugs can be effective for treating pain or other conditions. However, these drugs can be dangerous when abused, especially by teens and young adults. According to a report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, among young adults aged 18–25, 14% used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons within the past year.

Commonly abused prescription drugs include ADHD medications, narcotic pain medications and drugs intended to treat anxiety. Unfortunately, abuse of these drugs can be deadly, with nearly five young adults dyingeach day from prescription drug overdose. Prescription medications have the potential to be as addictive and deadly as illicit drugs.

Myth #3: You can’t get addicted to marijuana or vaping.

Some people believe that vaping is not addictive, but the reality is that vaping involves consuming nicotine, which is addictive and results in cravings, according to research from Johns Hopkins and other leaders.

Marijuana may also be viewed as a non-addictive drug, but it is possible to develop a dependence on this substance. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that as many as 30% of people who use marijuana will become addicted. If you display symptoms such as intense marijuana cravings, being unable to reduce your use, or missing work because of marijuana use, you may have an addiction to marijuana.

Myth #4: Detox is enough.

Detox is the time period when you focus on getting all of the toxic substances out of your system. This process can result in uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. For this reason, it’s best to detox at a recovery center, or at least in an outpatient setting, so doctors can monitor your symptoms and intervene if necessary.

But it doesn’t end there. Getting sober is just the first step on the road to recovery. Staying sober — that’s the next challenge.

Myth #5 Rehab doesn’t work.

Some people would rather try to fight through their addiction on their own than seek treatment because they believe rehab is a waste of time.

With dedication, addiction treatment can be an effective method of both initial cessation and continued sobriety. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states, “Research shows that about one-third of people who are treated for alcohol problems have no further symptoms one year later. Many others substantially reduce their drinking and report fewer alcohol-related problems.”

Rehab isn’t just a place. It’s an education and a lifestyle. It’s where you gain the skills you need to combat cravings, and where you get a taste of what your life can look like without addiction.

It’s a team of compassionate doctors and clinicians who are ready to help you take back your freedom. That kind of focus is powerful.

Myth #6: Medication during detox and recovery is just switching one addiction for another.

In modern rehab centers, medication-assisted treatment is a common practice. To some, using prescription medication during addiction treatment might seem counterintuitive. But there are marked differences between the prescription medicine in rehab and the drugs a person may be addicted to.

The medications used in rehab are FDA-approved for specific uses. They might be used to calm cravings while your body goes through detox, or help a person with recovery maintenance. While it is not for everyone, medication-assisted treatment is only one part of a recovery plan for those whose medical providers have deemed it necessary.

These FDA-approved drugs are not built to give you a high and are safe to use with a doctor’s oversight. Your doctor will monitor your dosage and help wean you off of the medication when you’re ready.

Myth #7: Rehab is only for rich people.

Rehab costs can vary depending on different factors. Many insurance plans cover at least a part of drug treatment. If you are below a certain income threshold, you may be eligible for public healthcare through Medicaid for certain treatment centers.

The cost of rehab with insurance can be much more affordable than paying on your own. Even if your insurance won’t cover drug rehab, some recovery centers offer financial aid or payment programs. Your employer may be willing to help with costs, or a family member may be able to help. The long-term costs of addiction are far greater than the short-term costs of medical treatment.

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Myth #8: If you relapse after rehab, you’re back to square one.

Relapse is not defeat — it’s a normal, even expected part of recovery for many people. The National Institute on Drug Abuse compares addiction treatment to treatment for hypertension. Both follow a similar pattern of treatment, relapse and treatment adjustment:

“Successful treatment for addiction typically requires continual evaluation and lapses to drug abuse do not indicate failure — rather, they signify that treatment needs to be reinstated or adjusted, or that alternate treatment is needed.”

If you experience a setback, don’t lose hope. Talk to your counselor or sponsor, refocus and give recovery another chance.

Myth #9: Treatment didn’t work before, so there’s no point in trying again.

If you tried treatment before but were not able to maintain sobriety, that doesn’t mean that treatment doesn’t work. It simply means you are experiencing what is typical of someone along the journey of addiction recovery. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, 40 to 60% of people in recovery from addiction experience setbacks or relapse.

If you’ve tried treatment before, that does not mean it is time to give up. With thousands of facilities across the U.S., finding the right facility can be a difficult process. To make this process easier, The Recovery Village offers some guidelines to help you find the right rehab. By using these guidelines, you can better identify programs that will promote and empower your lasting recovery.

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Editor – Renee Deveney
As a contributor for Advanced Recovery Systems, Renee Deveney is passionate about helping people struggling with substance use disorder. With a family history of addiction, Renee is committed to opening up a proactive dialogue about substance use and mental health. Read more

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Findi[…]and Getting Help.” National Institutes of Health, 2014. Web. 11 Jul 2016.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).” National Institutes of Health, Dec 2012. Web. 22 Jul 2016.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What is the scope of prescription drug misuse?” December 2018. Accessed September 23, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Abuse of Prescription (Rx) Drugs Affects Young Adults Most.” February 2016. Accessed September 23, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “How effective is drug addiction treatment?” January 2018. Accessed September 17, 2019.

Blaha, Michael. “5 vaping facts you need to know.” Johns Hopkins Medicine. Accessed September 17, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Is marijuana addictive?” July 2019. Accessed September 17, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.