3 Major Myths Non-Addicts Have About Addiction
by Jon Winder, B.A., M.A.
1. The addict has to hit bottom before they will change.
There is nothing magic about hitting bottom. Many addicts hit bottom a long time ago, and in fact, not only hit bottom, they are in a hole and can’t get out. They need a ladder just to come up to their bottom. Much of this is created by having accompanying mental illnesses like
depression, bi-polar disorder and generalized anxiety. Although it seems as if they are choosing their drug over everything else in their lives, the reality for most is that they are caught in a mental, emotional, spiritual, and psychological trap. Science has shown how addiction changes the brain function, so that it develops natural neuro-pathways that are reinforcing for the addict, so there is a physiological dependency.
2. Addicts will stop using if they are pressured. Drugs/alcohol initially provide tremendous relief from other symptoms and issues. There is a
pleasure or rush from them. As use continues, however, the addictions become more like a daily crutch. In the later stages addiction become a focus of life subjugating all other concerns and worries. The lifestyle is focused on obtaining, preparing, and indulging in the addiction to
the detriment of all other aspects of their lives. Here is what most non-addicts don’t understand about addiction: for the non-addicts, if
addiction was causing problems and stress in their lives, they would stop the source i.e., the addiction. Whereas for the addict, if addiction is causing problems and stress in their lives, rather than stopping, they cope by using more drugs to deaden the pain of the guilt and shame.
They focus on getting rid of the negative feelings by increasing their use instead of solving the problem. This can best be illustrated by people who are addicted to gambling. The more they lose, the more justified they feel to continuing. Another example is, if the addict is spending all
of his money for drugs/ alcohol and has no money to pay the electric bill resulting in the electricity is being turned off, the family will pressure him to stop. The addict, however, not knowing how to stop decides to spend what little money he has to help him cope by getting
high in order to block the negative feelings of guilt, fear and shame of not paying the electric bill. In other words, they opt for short-term relief vs. long-term solutions. Harvey, a 45-year-old alcoholic, who still lived at home with his aging mother. In group therapy he disclosed that he had a habit of storing his liquor in a medicine cabinet in the
garage. Every now and then (actually many times a day), he would go out into the garage “to get something or feed the dog” and have a nip or two. One day as he was opening the medicine cabinet, he noticed in the mirror his 80-year-old mother peeking around the corner at him. He said, “It made me very nervous and ashamed, so I took
care of it.” “How?” queried the group members. “I broke the mirror,” he proudly exclaimed. For example, shaming drug addicts always has the opposite effect than most people think. It increases their stress level, wounds what little self- esteem they may have, and invalidates their
reality, thereby driving their avoidance of criticism deeper. The result is usually they increase their use in order to avoid the inner pain and the they end up using their addiction to get back at someone. It is not unusual to hear a client early in recovery say, “If I am going to keep getting accused of using, I may as well use”.
3. Once a person with an addiction goes for treatment, they are a failure if they can’t stay clean or sober. Treatment is not a one-shot process. There is a saying, “There is no failure; there is only feedback.” If a person relapses after treatment, that indicates that there was some aspect of recovery he did not get—maybe he got over-confident, maybe he dove into his work and got overwhelmed, maybe his wife left him while he was in treatment. There are hundreds of ways
people relapse. The key is to figure out what the feedback is and what can be done in the future to prevent relapse.
Success in treatment can be that a person stays clean or sober for longer periods each time after a relapse and the periods of using is less. So let’s say a person stays clean for 3 months and uses for two weeks and stops. Then he goes six months and only relapses for a week. This is progress. The Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book declares that alcoholism (and addiction) is “cunning, baffling, and powerful” so it is understandable why these myths perpetuate.