Friday, February 15, 2013

Health Column: The Truth Behind Addiction: 5 Common Myths Dispelled

by Lily McCann
Addiction is a complex and emotive subject. Because of the nature of addiction and the way in which it can make sufferers behave, many people often make harsh and unfair judgements about it. Ultimately this lack of understanding can cause anxiety to sufferers and help form social prejudices that are inaccurate and really no help to anyone.

There are several common beliefs, presumptions and myths when it comes to addiction. Recent, scientific research has dispelled almost all of them. Here are a few of the most popular myths and the truth behind them.

Myth: Addiction is a choice.

Fact: Admittedly the initial decision to experiment or become involved with drugs, alcohol or other substances is usually voluntary. But how many people try these things planning to becoming addicted? 

Who would actively want to be taken over by a substance to the point where their compulsive desire for it has huge detrimental effects on their life? One of the most hotly debated topics of addiction is whether addiction is a disease or a choice – in other words is the addict a victim of a physical impairment or is their addictive behaviour a choice for which the blame lies solely with them? 

The majority of recent scientific research favours the former argument and views addiction as a disease within an area of the brain called the mesolimbic dopamine. Structural abnormalities in the brain along with a distorted ‘pleasure-reward’ system and other biochemical issues mean that it becomes taken over by addiction, driving the body to commit all sorts of unacceptable (and sometimes harmful) acts in order to gain gratification. The brain fools the body into thinking that it needs a certain substance to survive and must do anything to get it. This is not a choice, but a compulsion.

Myth: An addict has to hit rock bottom before they can begin to recover.

Fact: A common misconception of addiction is that a user has to hit rock bottom and feel as though they have nothing left to lose before finally having an ‘epiphany’ that will make them want to take action against their addiction.

This is an extreme, dramatic view of addiction/recovery and one that Dr Kathleen Brady, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Carolina Medical School, disagrees with. She suggests that the sooner an addict gets help for their addiction the more they have to live for. 

Furthermore there has been no evidence to suggest that people who have longer lasting periods of addiction or face harsher consequences through their addiction have any higher success rate in recovery than those who seek help sooner.

Myth: An addict will always be an addict.

Fact: At the opposite end of the spectrum from those who believe that addiction is a lifestyle choice rather than a debilitating disease, you will find people who believe that it is a psychological and physical impairment so severe that sufferers will never be able to fully shake off their addiction. 

This is inaccurate and places more pressure and self doubt on addicts who could already be anxious about their journey to recovery. Although many addicts take a long time to conquer their addiction, statistically there are more who overcome short term addictions in a relatively quick amount of time and then go on to lead normal lives than those who never recover. 

CNN also report that figures from the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse indicate that 75% of recovering alcoholics are able to quit their addiction with no medical treatment at all. These sorts of figures are very reassuring for addicts looking to turn their lives around.

Myth: An addict has to want to quit in order to be successful.

Fact: Although intrinsically they know they have to quit in order to improve their lives, the prospect of going without the substance that their body craves is a frightening thought for many addicts and not something they naturally want to put themselves through. 

In fact many addicts are forced to seek help either by the law or by threats from family members or employers. Obviously they need to feel some commitment to their recovery process but studies indicate that the reasons or motivations behind an addict seeking help have little consequence on their ultimate success.

Myth: The only way for an addict to recover is to go to rehab.

Fact: Addiction isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ issue. Each addict will battle with different problems and have their own individual experience of addiction and recovery. Some people may experience other disorders such as depression or underlying psychological problems that need treating alongside their addiction. This may involve stabilising medication or counselling. 

Drug rehabilitation itself comes in all different forms such residential rehab centres, short stay clinics and outpatient programs each with differing approaches to managing addiction and ensuring that the addict has the best possible chance of recovery. 

Some will require a minimum stay, some may be set in the middle of nowhere so that patients can be away from the pressures of everyday life. Sitting down and discussing their addiction honestly and openly is the best way for any addict to get the individual treatment that they need to succeed – whether than be a spell in rehab, medication, counselling or a combination of all of these. There is certainly no universal ‘cure’ for all addicts.

Reproduced unedited from KWIKMED

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai