With 20.8 million Americans struggling with substance abuse, drug and alcohol
addiction is a serious, widespread problem. But even though addiction
touches all walks of life, there are many misconceptions about it. That's
why education is so important, not just for people dealing with addiction
but also their family members.
Knowing the truths about substance abuse can make treatment more effective
and increase the chances of success.
Our team at Mission Hospital, Laguna Beach, has resources that are readily
available for people who are seeking information or need help. We want
people to know we are here to support them in whatever way we can; we
want people to call us.
Here are truths about addiction that everyone should know.
Myth: Addiction is a moral failure.
Truth: Addiction is a disease. The Surgeon General recently released a report on addiction, emphasizing
that it should be treated as a medical condition. Addiction is a disease
of the brain, and you need to heal the brain. It should be treated like
you would any medical problem, and loved ones dealing with addiction should
be supported during treatment.
Myth: It's not a big deal to drink or use drugs.
Truth: Drug and alcohol addiction can have lasting effects. People may think substance use can't do a lot of harm in the long
run, but research proves that wrong. Drug problems can include cardiovascular
issues, certain types of cancer, a risk of HIV or AIDS, and mental health
issues, depending on longevity of use and the types of drugs taken. Long-term
alcoholism can lead to nerve and brain damage, liver disease, heart problems
and ulcers, among other issues.
Myth: Treatment won't change anything.
Truth: It can change life for the better. If someone has been using drugs or alcohol for quite a while, it can create
changes in the brain. But it is amazing how the body can heal itself;
through abstinence, the brain will begin to heal. Sometimes permanent
brain damage can occur, but for the most part if someone wants to change
and live a sober life again, healing can happen.
Myth: You can tell an addict by looking at them.
Truth: Addicts aren't easy to identify. I've had family members say they didn't think their loved one
was addicted because he would get up every day and go to work. But you
can't pick an addict out of the crowd. Addiction occurs across all
socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities and genders.
Myth: You can't get addicted to prescription medication.
Truth: Prescription meds are addictive. Some people may have the mindset that if something is prescribed you can’t
become addicted to it. But misuse of pain medication and addiction is
increasing. People should talk with their doctors to get educated about
their medication and the potential risks and side effects. The doctors
should also make sure patients are taking only the prescribed dosage and
not more than that. If patients say they're taking extra, it could
mean a problem is developing.
Myth: Nobody can help me.
Truth: Treatment is a group effort. As the Surgeon General's report points out, health care providers,
schools, police, insurance companies and the community at large should
work together to make treatment for addiction more accessible and acceptable.
And family members play a crucial role in supporting someone going through
addiction--they can set boundaries, be consistent, initiate open conversations
and get educated. Those are huge things. If you look at a person who has
that in their life as opposed to someone who doesn't, they both have
the potential to attain sobriety. But the one whose family goes to Alcoholics
Anonymous (AA) meetings or won't let them come home drunk has a greater
chance of success.
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