Substance Use Disorder is widely misunderstood. How much do YOU know?
Many of the myths surrounding SUD only serve to shame those affected which prevents them from seeking treatment. Check out the truth behind some of the more common myths below.
Myth #1: Using drugs or alcohol is a choice, so if someone gets addicted, it’s their fault.
FACT: No one would choose addiction, any more than they would choose cancer. There are many contributing factors beyond choice including genetics, upbringing, and trauma. People with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) may not be living their best lives and wouldn’t choose to live that way if given the choice. Everyone’s brain is designed to seek out rewarding experiences thanks to a brain chemical called dopamine. Our brain remembers what we did that resulted in the release of dopamine, so it wants to repeat those actions over and over. Substances such as legal and illegal drugs and alcohol cause dopamine to be released. In addition, when addiction gets stronger, the chemical makeup of the brain changes. Specifically, the front of the brain (prefrontal cortex) that helps us make rational, informed choices and understand the consequences of our actions.
Myth #2: People who can’t stop using substances are weak or immoral.
FACT: People who become dependent on drugs or alcohol are victims of a real illness. Most people who misuse substances such as legal or illegal drugs or alcohol also suffer from a mental health condition and may first seek out substances as a way to self-medicate. In addition, science has proven that Substance Use Disorders do have a genetic link that may run in families.
Myth #3: Substance use is only a problem in people of lower income.
FACT: Substance Use Disorder (SUD) impacts every level of society, from older to younger, wealthy to poor, in cities and in rural areas. Certain genders, ages and income levels may experience higher rates of substance misuse, but for anyone who fills a prescription with potentially addictive qualities, the danger for abuse is present.
Myth #4: People don’t need treatment. They can stop using drugs or alcohol if they really want to.
FACT: It is extremely difficult for people addicted to drugs or alcohol to stop using them. Research shows long-term drug, alcohol (substance) use changes a person’s brain function, causing them to crave the substance even more, and making it increasingly difficult for the person to quit. Especially for adolescents, intervening and stopping substance use early is important, as children become addicted to substances much faster than adults. When someone experiences a positive sensation, a brain chemical called dopamine is released into the pathways of the brain’s reward center, your brain takes note of this response as well as what substance, food, location or behavior caused the great feeling.
Myth #5: People who get addicted to prescription drugs are different from people who get addicted to illegal drugs.
FACT: Even though prescription drug misuse has reached epidemic proportions in the past 10 years, the use of “legal” substances to get high carries less stigma than the use of illegal substances. Because medications like Vicodin, Xanax, and Adderall can be prescribed by a doctor, are relatively safe when used as prescribed, and are already sitting in most people’s medicine cabinets, there is a widespread misconception that they are safer than street drugs. However, they are not. When a person takes a prescription medication in a larger dose or more often than intended or for a condition they do not have, it affects the same areas of the brain as illegal drugs/substances and poses the same risk of addiction.