The drug crisis in the United States is getting worse — more than 20 million adults have some form of substance use disorder. Unfortunately, it’s made worse by pervasive myths and misconceptions around addiction and the people who suffer from it. If people with substance misuse disorder hope to recover, they need understanding and compassion. With that in mind, there are a few myths about addiction that we want to dispel.
While it’s true that men are more likely to become addicts, women are the fastest-growing segment for substance abuse in the country. According to the Federal Center For Substance Abuse Prevention, roughly 2.7 million women in the United States struggle with substance misuse disorder.
Women are especially susceptible to opioid misuse. Opioid misuse usually starts with prescription painkillers like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine, and women are much more likely to be prescribed opioids for chronic pain. They’re also generally prescribed these medications in higher doses and for longer periods — women make up 65% of total opioid prescriptions and are 40% more likely to become persistent opioid users after surgery.
One of the most stubborn myths in the world of substance misuse is that addiction is easy to see from the outside. Depictions of addiction in movies and TV shows give people the impression that drug and alcohol misuse sufferers are disheveled, desperate, and unable to keep their lives together.
Why is this myth so damaging? Because it perpetuates the idea that unless someone is visibly struggling, they don’t need help. In fact, many people who suffer from addiction have full-time jobs, happy family lives, and display no outward signs. Nonetheless, these people need help and support.
In 2007, a study by the National Institute of Alcohol and Alcoholism (NIAAA) categorized approximately 19.5 percent of all alcoholics as “functional” — by their definition, these people are “middle-aged, well-educated, with stable jobs and families.”
Other studies have indicated that 8 percent of full-time workers and 10 percent of part-time workers use illicit drugs, with prevalence in some industries reaching as high as 19.2 percent.
Many people deny that they have a problem because they’re successful in their work lives or because they only drink at home, but the fact is that anyone can be susceptible to addiction. People in these situations often hide their addiction due to negative stigma, shame, or the misconception that they’re not “bad enough” to warrant seeking help, but this simply isn’t true. Anyone experiencing any kind of conflict between drugs or alcohol and their personal and professional life should seek help.
While it’s true that the initial choice to try alcohol or an illicit drug is often voluntary, many people are able to use alcohol and drugs responsibly. Many people are prescribed opioid painkillers and never develop a misuse problem, while some do — if willpower was all it took, addiction would be much easier to solve.
The truth is that the factors that lead people to misuse and become addicted to drugs or alcohol are incredibly complicated — even today, scientists and psychologists are still trying to understand how addictive behavior develops in some people and not others.
The fact is that addiction and addictive substances “re-wire” the brain on a very fundamental, unconscious level. People struggling with substance misuse aren’t deciding to keep using any more than they decide to be hungry or tired — the addiction becomes a biological urge that they can’t ignore any more than they can ignore the urge to breathe. Changing those urges and associations in someone’s brain is difficult and complicated, and blaming people with substance misuse disorders for causing their own problems isn’t helping.
While it’s true that dosages are more controlled when it comes to prescription drugs, prescription pills can be just as addictive and just as dangerous to misuse as “street” drugs. People are also more likely to take pills with alcohol or other drugs, which can cause adverse reactions that make the chances of overdosing much higher.
According to the CDC, almost 218,000 people have died of prescription drug overdoses between 1999 and 2017, with the rate of overdose death involving prescription opioids increasing by a factor of five in that time. Prescription drugs may carry the illusion of legitimacy, but they should be taken just as seriously.
The truth is that substance misuse disorders can affect anyone, no matter their current situation, history with substance use, upbringing, or environment. You can’t rely on your intuition to tell you whether someone you love is struggling or not — many people with substance misuse disorders hide it well. If you or someone you love is having trouble with substance misuse, there’s no sense in waiting until it gets worse. Contact us today.