I am constantly amazed at how many drug myths continue to survive in our popular culture, often presented as facts. In honor of National Drug Facts Week (November 8-12) I want to cite some of these troublesome myths and give them the factual debunking that they deserve.
Myth #1: If it’s a prescription, it must be safe; you can’t get addicted to something your doctor prescribes. Although many medications are perfectly safe if taken in the prescribed dosage for a short period of time, prolonged use can be dangerous—and, yes, addictive. Some prescription drugs are especially hazardous if the user exceeds the prescribed dosage or takes a combination of drugs.
Myth #2: “Natural” drugs are safer than synthetic ones. Marijuana, mushrooms and other “natural” highs still alter brain chemistry and produce dangerous side effects. They aren’t harmless just because they grow in the ground.
Myth #3: The heroin era (or the crack crisis, the age of ecstasy, etc.) is over. Drugs don’t just go away. Although certain drug trends become more popular and available and then seem to diminish in popularity over time, a drug doesn’t pose a lesser threat to you – or your kids – simply because it is associated with the culture of a previous decade.
Myth #4: If you have a high alcohol tolerance, you don’t have a drinking problem. If you feel nothing after several drinks, you DO have a problem. A casual drinker wouldn’t be able to finish a couple of six-packs—and if they did, they’d feel very sick. If you’re drinking this much and feeling fine, you need help.
Myth #5: If you have a stable job and family life, you’re not addicted. You may still have a job or career, a loving spouse and kids, and still have a drug or alcohol problem. Just ask any physician in recovery—many of them practiced for years without anyone recognizing their drug addiction. Holding down a job doesn’t mean you’re not addicted—it could mean that you have a tolerant spouse or boss, or you are in a career that puts up with excessive drug or alcohol use. Although you may still be treading water, you are risking everything, and rock bottom may not be far away.
Myth #6: Drug addiction is a choice. Drug use is a choice, and prolonged use changes your body and brain chemistry. When that happens, the user no longer appears to have a choice—this is when use and misuse become addiction.
Myth #7: Detox is all you need. You aren’t addicted after you finish detox. They can just knock you out so you can detox while you sleep. Detox is difficult and it’s just the beginning. The new “ultra rapid detox” programs can be dangerous and even deadly. Finally, detox is the first step towards recovery, but addiction is a chronic illness—like diabetes, asthma or hypertension, it needs to be managed throughout the lifespan. There is no cure.
Myth #8: If someone in recovery uses drugs or alcohol again, they’ll be right back where they were when they first quit. This can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe that one drink will throw you back to “square one,” then it will. However, it is entirely possible to relapse, realize your mistake, and get right back in recovery.
Myth #9: You need to be religious in order to get sober. Sobriety doesn’t require you to believe in God or subscribe to any organized religion. It helps, however, if you believe in humanity, family, community, and the good aspects of yourself—beliefs that are greater and stronger than your own daily life with drugs.
Myth #10: Addicts are bad people. Addicts aren’t “bad” people trying to get “good,” they’re sick people trying to get well. They don’t belong to a particular race or exist only in certain parts of the country. They are lawyers, farmers, soldiers, mothers and grandfathers who struggle with drug dependence on a daily basis. They are proof that addiction doesn’t discriminate—but, thankfully, neither does recovery.
Deni Carise, Ph.D.
Chief Clinical Officer, Phoenix House