Substance abuse is common in the United States, but unfortunately, many people don’t receive the treatment they need. In 2018 an estimated 21.2 million people needed this treatment, but only 3.7 million got it, according to a survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Here are some myths about addiction recovery, debunked by the experts who help people with treatment every day.
1. People with addiction need to hit rock bottom
Loved ones of people struggling with addiction often think there’s nothing they can do until their loved one hits "rock bottom" and decides to get help on their own.
“This has repeatedly been proven to be untrue,” says Dr. Omar Manejwala, a psychiatrist and addiction expert. He says there are many things you can do to encourage someone to seek help. “Often, people aren’t ready to get help because of stigma or shame,” he says. To encourage them to seek treatment, “you can reassure that you aren’t judging them.”
2. Relapse means treatment has failed
After going to treatment and getting sober, some people return to alcohol or drug use. This is known as relapse, and many people think it means treatment has failed. This is a myth, says Paul Brethen, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Addiction Specialist.
“Recovery is a process, and so is treatment,” he says. “It's not uncommon for people to have multiple treatment episodes. Like a medical condition that needs to be treated several times, a person has to comply with doctor's orders to see any success." The more a person with addiction applies what they’ve learned in treatment, the better their chances of recovery.
3. Going to rehab is the only way to treat addiction
Inpatient rehab centers, where people with addiction live at the facility during treatment, are a well-known way to treat addiction. Many people think these rehab centers are the only treatment option. “The majority of people who achieve recovery do not go to such programs, although they can be helpful for many,” Manejwala says.
Many treatments are available, and people with addiction may try several treatment options before they find the one that works for them. “Research has shown time and again that there are many paths to recovery,” Manejwala says.
4. Medication-assisted treatment just switches one addiction for another
Opioid use disorder, which includes addictions to heroin and prescription pain medications, may be treated with medications like methadone. Many people think this treatment just switches one drug addiction for another. This is a myth, Manejwala says.
“We would never say that about giving medications for diabetes or some other condition,” Manejwala says. He says the medications used to treat addiction are very effective and “dramatically reduce the risk of overdose.”
5. Addiction treatment is too expensive
Some people believe that addiction treatment is very expensive, and that they can’t afford addiction recovery. It’s true that some treatment options are expensive, but there are plenty of budget-friendly options, too. “If you do your research, you can find help,” Brethen says. Brethen says there are subsidized government programs that can help people pay for the costs of addiction treatment. There are free 12-step support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, as well.