Substance abuse, also known as drug abuse, is a patterned use of a drug in which the user consumes the substance in amounts or with methods which are harmful to themselves or others, and is a form of substance-related disorder.
Drug abuse and addiction have negative consequences for individuals and for society. Drug abuse is a serious public health problem that affects almost every community and family in some way. Each year drug abuse causes millions of serious illnesses or injuries among Americans alone.
Sadly, misconceptions about drug use abound, and all too often these become obstacles on the path to recovery or drive people to abuse drugs in the first place.
Without further ado, here are some of the most common myths concerning drug use:
Myth Busters of Drug Abuse
Myth #1: Drug abuse is limited to illegal street drugs
Fact: People all around you abuse and get addicted to prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, caffeine, and even food!
Myth #2: All drug use is drug abuse
Fact: While the slippery slope of drugs is quite real, some people manage to use drugs in moderation. And depending on which drugs these people use, this may not be unhealthy for them.
Myth #3: Drug addiction is not a disease
Fact: Studies show that drug addiction is in fact a neurological disease caused by drug use. Many people suffering from addiction think their problem is a symptom of poor will power or a character flaw. Depending on how you define character flaw, that may be. But drug addiction is a real and physical pathological dependency that changes the way your brain works in crucial ways, and in many cases makes getting drugs the primary driver of a person’s behavior.
Myth #4: You have to hit rock-bottom and really want drug treatment for it to work
Fact: This is patently false. Did you know that most people undergo drug abuse treatment because of court orders or pressure from loved ones? (Yes, interventions do sometimes work!) Unfortunately, the fact is that rock-bottom is actually six feet lower than expected for many drug abusers.
Myth #5: Once an addict, always an addict
Fact: Actually, the science is still out on this one, but it sadly appears to be true in most cases. Many people successfully recover from addiction through drug rehab programs, counseling, and in few cases, on their own. However, some of us in the medical community, including former FDA commissioner David Kessler, believe that once the circuitry of addiction has been embedded into the brain, the only way to recover is to learn new behaviors to overlay the old circuitry. The problem is that when people with addictions receive drug-related cues or triggers, whether from being around drug users, doing activities or being in places where you have used drugs, or spying a tempting cheesecake, it can be hard to resist once the circuitry of addiction is in your brain. According to this school of thought, the best treatment, not cure, for drug addiction is to find a way to cool the stimulus by introducing new and healthy habits and activities into your life. Regardless of whether this is the only possible treatment, it is certainly helpful in most cases.
Myth #6: If you really wanted to quit drugs you could do it on your own
Fact: This is false in an overwhelming majority of cases for the aforementioned reason: Using drugs over an extended period of time can change your neurological circuitry, making the dependency stronger. Furthermore, children get addicted much faster than adults, making it especially urgent to address drug use as early as possible.
Myth # 7: Illegal drugs are the most dangerous
Fact: This is another gray area. Illegal street drugs like cocaine, heroin and meth can be fatal in single doses, and since there’s no regulation on this market, you also run the risk of using drugs that are laced. However, millions of people are also abusing legal drugs such as prescription drugs, tobacco and alcohol. Ironically, alcohol, a legal substance is the highest cause of drug-related death. At the same time, studies show that alcohol can be heart-healthy in moderation. Again, the answer isn’t a satisfying yes or no. We have to take into consideration the type of drug and the level of abuse. For instance, abuse of marijuana, a substance that’s illegal in most of America, is far less dangerous than the abuse of alcohol, a legal drug.
Myth # 8 Marijuana is safe and not addictive
Fact: The most commonly abused drug in America, marijuana is not nearly as harmful as other illegal drugs. But make no mistake about it that marijuana is an addictive substance, at least for 10%, of Americans according to the latest info from The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th Edition), and numerous studies have found a connection between chronic marijuana use and depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. Regarding the effect of marijuana on lung health, no connection has been made between marijuana use and lung cancer, despite what common sense might tell you.
The information in the article is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your healthcare provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with an appropriate healthcare provider. Image from Vice.