Addiction is a subject that’s surrounded by misinformation. Beliefs about substance abuse commonly come from a place of fear or prejudice. As a result, it’s often difficult for people to get the facts they need to make informed decisions. Let’s explore the top myths and facts about addiction.

Myth #1: People with substance abuse problems can stop any time they want

Fact: Addiction is a disease that needs treatment for recovery

Many people believe that stopping substance abuse is simply a matter of willpower. If a person sets out to stop drinking or taking drugs, a desire to do so should be enough, right?

Unfortunately, due to the brain changes that happen as a result of substance abuse, professional addiction treatment is almost always needed for the person to begin recovery. The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as a chronic and progressive condition that causes changes in the brain, and it drives a person to compulsively seek and use substances.

Myth #2: If it’s a prescription drug, it’s not addictive

Fact: Addiction to prescription drugs happens often

Some people believe that if a doctor prescribes a medication, it is completely safe and cannot be addictive. Unfortunately, this isn’t true. Many prescription drugs have a high potential for abuse and addiction, especially medications like opioid painkillers, benzodiazepines, sleeping pills, barbiturates and stimulants.

Opioid abuse has become a nationwide epidemic in our country. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that approximately 2.1 million people in the U.S. experienced prescription opioid substance use disorders in 2012. Overdoses involving prescription opioids killed close to 17,000 people in 2016.

Myth #3: People get addicted to just one substance

Fact 3: People can and do develop addictions to two or more substances

Many people believe that those with substance abuse problems have one drug of choice and stick with it. (4) Polysubstance abuse, where someone uses two or more different substances, is now more common.

Some individuals use multiple substances to create a more intense high, such as combining heroin and cocaine into a “speedball.” Others take specific drugs to minimize the undesired effects of another drug, such as taking sedatives to come down from cocaine. Some people with addiction issues use their primary drug of choice and also take whatever is readily available.

Believing the Myths Can Be Dangerous

Myths tend to grow around topics that are emotional, complex and confusing, such as addiction. Risk comes from believing a myth without questioning it and allowing it to influence your beliefs and actions.

Lack of appropriate information on substance abuse and addiction can lead to:

  • Increased substance use
  • Damaged relationships
  • Increased mental health issues
  • Increased physical health complications
  • Risk of overdose
  • Serious injury, hospitalizations and overdose

Seeking the most up-to-date and reliable information from reputable sources helps keep you well-informed. Check your sources of information, and use governmental sites, well-known medical and psychiatric organizations and reputable treatment centers that all use citations to support their claims.