5 myths about addiction and chemical dependency

Uncontrolled, damaging addiction or chemical dependency is one of the top reasons to leave your spouse. At the same time, many spouses work together to successfully overcome alcohol, drug and gambling problems. Finding the strength, patience and understanding to help you or your spouse beat an addiction takes un-learning a lot of commonly accepted facts about addiction.

Psychologist and researcher Dr. Adi Jaffe is spurred on by his own experience with methamphetamine to study how addiction happens and how the government, hospitals, and loved ones can help addicts truly overcome their demons. In an article for CNN.com Dr. Jaffe highlights how certain “addiction myths”–often pounded into our heads as teenagers to scare us away from drugs–are misleading and counterproductive. Not only have they failed at preventing Americans from using drugs, they create taboos and disincentives for addicts to recognize their problem and seek help.

Myth #1: There is an addiction gene

In the nature vs. nurture debate, current research shows that only about 50% of addiction tendencies can be attributed to genes. True, that’s a relatively high number. At the same time, it means the other half of the story is up to experiences and environment. No one is “destined” for chemical dependency, even if their parents were addicts.

The addiction gene myth creates a sad sense of inevitability around drug use that can discourage addicts from getting treatment. It also gives those without a family history of drug use a false sense of security. The truth is, given the right circumstances anyone can fall into addiction.

chemical dependencyMyth #2: Marijuana is a ‘gateway drug’

After years of attacking marijuana use, government and private studies are finding that the plant is not nearly as much of a risk to public health and safety as compared to other drugs. Research shows that “the addiction rate for marijuana is lower than that of alcohol, and there is little scientific evidence that it acts as a trigger for harder drugs.”

That’s certainly not to say that teen marijuana use is a good thing–it is simply one of the less harmful substances American teenagers experiment with. The real “gateway drugs” are legal and completely accessible: prescription opioids and stimulants, such as OxyContin and Vicodin. These narcotics are found in almost every home’s medicine cabinet and are highly addictive.

Myth #3: Addiction is for life

“This simply isn’t true, and it places a huge emotional and psychological burden on recovered addicts. Addiction is a spectrum disorder, like depression, and every person is different,” says Dr. Jaffe. In some cases it does take years for an addict to overcome her chemical dependency. More often, users fall into addiction for a short period and manage to put it behind them. With or without treatment, they successfully recover and lead productive, normal lives. Adi Jaffe himself is a perfect example.

Myth #4: Drugs ‘fry’ your brain

Recent research shows that drugs’ tendency to cause permanent severe brain damage has been vastly overemphasized in drug education. Certain drugs such as meth, MDMA, cocaine and inhalants can have terrible neurological side effects. At the same time, this reality does not merit the “damaged goods” impression that the “fried brain” myth gives. Sadly, this kind of thinking can result in discrimination against former addicts by future employers and even health care workers and the legal system

Myth #5: You have to hit ‘rock bottom’

As with marriage, you shouldn’t wait until you’re at the brink of divorce to get marriage counseling! The deeper a marriage falls apart or a life falls into chemical dependency, the less chance there is of salvaging it. “There is little evidence that the level of consequences a person accumulates before seeking help is related to their chances of succeeding in recovery,” says Dr. Jaffe.

One could think of “rock bottom” as that moment that jars the addict into seeing the reality of his addiction. This could be getting arrested, or it could be failing a test or job interview. It could be a simple talk. In all, the less damage done the better.


For more information on addiction and chemical dependency and getting help for yourself or a loved one, visit http://www.drugabuse.gov/patients-families.


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