by Daniel Maurer
I began my “career” in drinking and taking opioid prescription drugs regularly, relatively late in life. However, looking back on my usage when I was still in high school, I see now that I had the makings of a problem drinker and regular drug abuser from the very beginning.
The fact is drug addiction and alcoholism both have a genetic component to them. Research is still ongoing, and medical science continues to reveal new discoveries about the roots of addiction. For now, we do know a person’s genes play some part in the addiction process.
Back in the day, I worked hard to hide my substance use, because I knew what I was doing wasn’t “right.” Others are much less clandestine about their substance use than I had been. However, this behavior is no less damaging than a person who is trying to conceal their usage.
Since alcohol or drug use is a behavior, many parents make the foregone conclusion that if Zach or Josh would “just quit,” everything would work out fine.
It’s not that simple, though. I wish it were!
In fact, because of the complexity of addiction, it’s easy for parents of an addicted son, spouse, or friend to make assumptions about how best to address the problem. These myths seem to persist.
It’s time to address and dispel the myths surrounding addiction, head on.
Myth #1: Drug addiction and alcoholism are choices, a failure of will.
Addiction is a disease of an organ in the human body—that organ being the human brain. It doesn’t seem like a disease, though. Therein lies the difficulty. To most, a disease is readily apparent with outward, bodily symptoms. For instance, if you have a runny nose, you probably have a cold. Or if you have a heart attack, you have an internal blockage, heart disease.
But diseases of the brain, such as mental illness and the “induced mental illness” of addiction, have a different outward symptom. Namely, behavior.
To put this in perspective, imagine if you had a stomach bug—if you felt like you might lose your lunch—you couldn’t control whether or not you were about to vomit, even if you wanted to. Active addiction is similar, depending on the type of chemicals a person has been abusing. A person is compelled to use.
One thing is for sure: from alcohol to marijuana, and from opioids to amphetamines—these are chemicals that can and do ruin lives. No one began using thinking that they were going to end up in a place where they would need help.
Thinking that addiction is simply a matter of will is not only harmful to the person who needs help; it also only further spreads a destructive stigma so often associated with the condition.
Myth #2: People who are addicted can stop using on their own if they really want to.
As I stated above: no they can’t!
Let me illustrate an example from my own life for you:
The first time I had been to inpatient treatment for addiction to alcohol and drugs, I wanted to keep using, but do so “more in secret.” You can probably guess how that turned out. The second inpatient treatment I attended, I really wanted to get and stay sober.
Soon after that second rodeo, something was tickling the back of my head, whispering ideas to me. I remember going to the liquor store and thinking to myself, this isn’t a good idea. I remember drinking, and although I felt relief initially, the next day self-loathing and an aching depression hit me. But I kept on doing it like I was banging my head against a wall!
I saw no other way out from the pain I was feeling. Every. Single. Day.
So I drank. And I went to doctors, seeking some other form of relief, usually by requesting prescription painkillers and benzodiazepines. Nothing helped. It truly was insanity. I was continuing to do the very behavior that caused the problem!
Depending on how far along a person is with their usage history, and also what genetic factors or co-occurring disorders (such as OCD, PTSD, or clinical depression) are playing into the larger picture, most active drinkers or drug abusers don’t want to continue the cycle of pain. They simply cannot stop.
At least not without getting the help that they deserve.
Myth #3: If it’s a prescription, it’s safe. You can’t get addicted to medicine a doctor prescribes.
Nope. Not true! In fact, many of the mind-altering chemicals doctors prescribe are not only extremely addictive, but they are also potentially life-threatening. An overdose of a Vicodin prescription will kill a person just as easily as a heroin overdose. Similarly, a prescription for Ritalin can be just as addictive as street meth.
We should be thankful that we live in a time when prescription medications can relieve severe pain or alleviate the terror of a panic attack. At the same time, these chemicals can be abused. It doesn’t matter if the drug came from a pharmacy or from a dealer on a street corner—both, potentially, have a risk of addiction.
Myth #4: There is nothing you can do to help.
This myth is so widespread because at least a part of it is true. The truth behind it is that—ultimately—you do not have control over another person’s actions. However, your lack of control ends at that point. You do have control of your response. You can express your concerns. You can look for help, first for yourself, then for someone you care about.
And you can and should understand the options that your son, your spouse or friend ultimately has to really embrace recovery and find a new life. The professionals at Windward Way strive to offer the very best addiction treatment through a step-down, ongoing continuum of care to help men regain their lives.
If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction and need treatment, we would love to talk with you and see how we can help you. PLEASE CALL 844.310.5975. Our counselors are available to answer your questions.
Daniel D. Maurer is a freelance writer openly living in long-term recovery. He is the author of Sobriety: A Graphic Novel, a Hazelden Publishing, youth and young adult recovery resource. He lives with his family in Saint Paul, Minnesota. For more information on Dan and his work, see: https://transformation-is-real.com.