Drug Abuse Facts and Fiction
There is a lot of information out there about drug abuse. Some of it is useful and some is just plain false. Here, our experts tell you the truth about substance use disorder — which is the larger umbrella including what many people call drug abuse — and debunk many of the common myths surrounding drug use and addiction.
Fiction: Anyone can stop using drugs if they just have the willpower.
Fact: Addiction is a disease like any other. You would never tell someone with cancer that they could overcome their disease if they just had more willpower. The same should be true for those suffering from addiction. Over time, continued use of addictive drugs changes your brain’s reward system by overstimulating it causing a flood of dopamine and interfering with normal processes. Eventually, patients require more and more of the drug to feel a high, and find themselves unable to control cravings.
Fiction: People need to “hit rock bottom” before they can benefit from a treatment program.
Fact: People struggling with opioid use disorder, alcohol use disorder, or other substance abuse problems can benefit from treatment at any time. They do not need to suffer serious consequences or be incarcerated to succeed in overcoming their drug or alcohol addiction.
Fiction: You can’t force someone into treatment, they have to want it.
Fact: Treatment does not have to be voluntary to be successful. People who are pressured by family, friends, employers or the legal system are just as likely to benefit from treatment as those who enter treatment voluntarily.
Fiction: You have to use drugs for a long time before they can hurt you.
Fact: Drug use is dangerous whether it’s the first time or the one-hundredth time. Since there is no way to know what chemicals a drug may contain, dangerous effects and even overdose can occur at any time. Also, physical dependence can occur quickly in some individuals.
Fiction: Marijuana is not addictive.
Fact: While it’s true that marijuana is less addictive than some of the most addictive drugs such as heroin, crack/cocaine or methamphetamines, it is still considered an addictive substance. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), around 30% of Americans who use marijuana likely have some degree of marijuana use disorder.
Fiction: Prescription drugs are safer to abuse than illegal drugs.
Fact: When misused or taken without a prescription, prescription medications are just as dangerous as illicit drugs. Many people, especially the young, believe they can safely take the same painkillers, benzodiazepines, barbiturates or other medications that they see their parents take. They are often looking to manage stress or improve performance. Not only can these medications be dangerous when taken outside a doctor’s care, but misusing them can lead to other types of drug use. For example, NIDA states that 80% of people who used heroin started by misusing prescription opioids. Children and young adults, especially, need to be educated about the dangers of abusing prescription drugs.
Fiction: It takes a long time to become addicted to cocaine.
Fact: Cocaine in all forms (including crack cocaine), whether it’s smoked, snorted or injected, is highly addictive. Some people become addicted after a short amount of time. Even a few uses can have serious consequences, including death.
Fiction: The best way to treat opioid addiction is without medication.
Fact: Although many people think that the goal of opioid addiction treatment is to remove all medication, research has shown that a combination of medication-based treatment and therapy are the most effective. Medication-assisted treatment can help patients manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Patients who choose a treatment option without medication are more likely to relapse.
Fiction: Naloxone programs prolong addiction.
Fact: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 50,000 Americans died from opioid overdose in 2019. The widespread availability of the drug Naloxone has proven vital in preventing overdose deaths. Naloxone rapidly reverses opioid overdose by binding with opioid receptors in the brain to stop the effects of the drug. Although some argue that the availability of Naloxone prevents people from seeking treatment, this is not the case. In fact, surviving an overdose is often a catalyst for people to seek treatment.
Fiction: Alcohol abuse means drinking every day.
Fact: Alcohol use disorder, commonly called alcohol abuse, takes many forms. It can mean drinking multiple drinks every day or less frequent binge drinking. Someone suffering from alcohol use disorder cannot control the amount that they drink once they start.
Fiction: Alcohol is a stimulant drug.
Fact: Alcohol is a depressant, which means that it sedates the central nervous system. Alcohol use impairs your judgment and lowers self-control and inhibitions. Contrary to what some people think, you cannot “sober up” by drinking coffee or taking a cold shower after drinking alcohol.
Fiction: Vaping is safe.
Fact: The fact is that we do not know about the long-term effects of vaping, particularly among children and young adults. While e-cigarettes may be safer than cigarettes, they can still contain harmful chemicals including nicotine, which is highly addictive. Vaping tobacco products often leads to smoking cigarettes.
Fiction: Smokeless tobacco products are safe.
Fact: Snuff and chewing tobacco are not safe just because there is no smoke. Continued use can lead to mouth and throat cancer, dental problems and high blood pressure.
Fiction: Drug abuse is a problem for people of low income and poor education.
Fact: Substance abuse can occur to people at any income and education level. Drug abuse occurs among college students and professionals, as well as people of all income levels.
Fiction: Prescription drugs purchased from someone you know are safe.
Fact: There is no regulation of prescription drugs that are being sold illicitly, regardless of whether the drug is Xanax or Ritalin. Even if you purchase pills that look like a legitimate drug that you recognize, there’s no way to know what is in them. The increased occurrence of fentanyl in illicit drugs poses an especially dangerous overdose risk to the public.
Fiction: “Detox” must take place in an inpatient setting.
Fact: Patients starting their recovery process can experience uncomfortable side effects and withdrawal symptoms during the process of medical detox. Inpatient and outpatient treatment options are available that incorporate both therapy and Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). Talking with a medical professional who is knowledgeable about addiction and treatment can help people understand the safest detox environment for them.
Fiction: A relapse means that the patient has failed in their recovery.
Fact: Relapse is a normal part of recovery. It is unrealistic to think that patients will not experience some setbacks during the process of developing a new, healthy lifestyle. What is most important is that patients have the resources to help them get back on track if a relapse does occur.
Fiction: It’s ok to call people with substance use disorder “addicts,” “users,” or “junkies”.
Fact: Using terms like these only adds to the stigma surrounding people with substance use disorder and can prevent them from seeking addiction treatment. Addiction is a disease just like diabetes or cancer and people should not be judged because they suffer from it. Using appropriate terms such as “substance use disorder” has been especially vital in combating the opioid pandemic.
If you or a loved one are suffering from a substance use disorder, Caron can help. At our treatment centers, we offer inpatient and outpatient programs that focus on recovery through treating the physical, mental and emotional health. Contact us today to learn about our comprehensive treatment programs.