There are currently many misconceptions about drug addiction, and these can lead to problems for both the addict and society as a whole. The medial portrayal of the stereotypical addict hides the reality that the majority of drug users do not fit this mold. There is also [confusion about the treatment of addiction]( that this may mean that those who need such help fail to make use of it. There are many addicts who have given up on the idea of recovery because of their misconceptions of what is involved.
The stereotypical drug addict is somebody who:
* Spends a great deal of time in alleyways in the bad side of town.
* Have legal problems and a criminal history.
* Steal from family and friends.
* An individual who wears dirty unkempt clothing and doesn’t invest much time into personal hygiene.
* They move from low paid job to low paid job or are more likely unemployable.
* Estranged from their family.
* Sad people who have nothing good in their life.
* Drug users are stereotypically under 40 years of age.
* Junkies have no ambition in life.
* They are usually homeless and live in derelict buildings with other junkies.
* They are unable to maintain a healthy romantic relationship.
* They are usually looked upon as a lowlife in their community.
The reality of drug users can differ greatly from the stereotype. Many substance abusers have a well maintained addiction. These are often individuals who:
* Never visit back alleyways in the seedier parts of town. The person supplying them with drugs may even be wearing a suit and working in an office.
* Have never had any legal problems or be on the police radar.
* Most addicts have never needed to steal money from family and friends.
* They may wear expensive clothing and be perfectly groomed.
* They may have a successful career and by highly respected by their peers.
* Many addicts are loved and cherished by their family and friends.
* They can appear at least outwardly happy and be extremely positive about the future.
* Drug addicts can be of any age. There are an increasing number of elderly people who are abusing drugs – it has even been referred to as a hidden epidemic.
* These individuals can be highly ambitions and driven people.
* They may live in a big expensive house.
* They can have a loving partner
* Many addicts are highly respected in their community. Most of the people who know them would not even guess that they had even tried recreational drugs.
The stereotypical image of the drug addict can have negative implications. It makes it easier for people to hide their substance abuse problems. They can kid themselves that so long as they do not fit the stereotype they do not really have a problem.
Another common myth is that drug addiction is more serious than alcohol addiction. This misconception occurs because of the illegality of recreational drugs. People assume that because alcohol is legal it must mean that it is less dangerous than those drugs that have been criminalized. This belief has been challenged and a recent study in the UK found that alcohol causes more harm than heroin or even crack cocaine. Different drugs were rated on a scale of 1-100 for the amount of harm they cause. Alcohol had a danger rating of 72 while heroin scored significantly less at 55. In fact the outcome of this research was that alcohol is the most dangerous of all drugs. The reality is that all forms of addiction are harmful to the individual – this is why the goal in recovery should be substance free living.
Another common belief is that drugs addicts are just bad people who choose to fall into a life of deprivation. This is an unfair characterization, and it does not reflect the reality of how people develop substance abuse problems. These are people who can come from every possible background. They can also have all types of religious or political beliefs. Nobody ever intends to become a slave to drugs. By the time that the individual begins to experience problems they are already deep into denial. It is often the fact that the individual does not fit into the drug addict stereotype that gives them the courage to experiment in the first place – all people who experiment with drugs never believe that addiction will actually happen to them.
Another common misconception is the idea that once a drug addict always a drug addict – this is similar to the belief that a leopard never changes its spots. This view of the drug user is not only unhelpful, but it is also clearly wrong. Even those who have fallen low into the midst of addiction can return to sanity. There are many examples of individuals who gave up drug abuse and completely turned their life around.
The idea that relapse is a normal part of recovery is true to a certain extent, but it is often misunderstood to mean something inaccurate. The problem is that many people will misinterpret the word normal to mean necessary. They may even believe that this gives them the green light to become chronic relapsers and get caught up in revolving door syndrome. There is no need for people to relapse in recovery. It is far better if they enter sobriety and maintain this for the rest of their life. Many people who relapse will never get another chance at recovery – their return to drugs turned out to be a death sentence.
It is true that the addict will often have to hit rock bottom before they become willing to change. The misconception occurs because people take rock bottom to mean lose everything. This is a potentially dangerous misconception. Rock bottom is a subjective term, and it refers to the point where the individual has had enough. Some people will have a high rock bottom, and this means that they needed to lose very little before they became willing to walk away from substance abusers. Low bottom addicts may be willing to lose almost everything before they give up. In some cases rock bottom will mean death, and there can be no recovery from there.
Another dangerous misconception that addicts will have is that they have not yet fallen low enough to be able to escape. The logic is that there is some magical rock bottom where it becomes easier to quit. This is a dangerous game to play because it means that the addict remains locked into their downward descent. They may even try to speed things along in the hope that going lower will give them the motivation to quit. There is no benefit to be had in hitting a low rock bottom. It is always going to be better for people to escape their addiction with as few scars as possible.
Addicts will often justify their life with the idea that life in recovery is boring. They may even have experience of quitting their addiction for a few weeks or months where they had a bad experience. It is true that it can take a bit of time and effort to build a successful life away from addiction, but it is certainly achievable for anyone. Such a life is anything but boring – it is the life of the addict that is predictable and limited in opportunities. Once people find sobriety they can begin to achieve their dreams and this is highly satisfying and rewarding. Those who are established in recovery will usually look back on their addict days and wonder how they could ever have mistaken it for happiness.
If there were only one way to escape addiction it would arguably make things easier, but this has not turned out to be the case. The current consensus in the recovery community is that the one size fits all approach needs to be abandoned. People are unique and will have their own needs. Some individuals will do well by joining a recovery fellowship and remaining within this group indefinitely. Other individuals seem to do better with therapy. There is no right answer. The important thing is that the individual finds what works for them. This means being willing to consider even those things that do not sound so attractive to begin with. For example, there have been many members of Narcotic Anonymous who were reluctant to begin with, but this turned out to be the best option for them. The best advice is for people to keep an open mind and not dismiss things out of hand.
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