After decades of fighting the war on drugs, the sad truth is that the addiction crisis in America is as bad as it has ever been. Indeed, the Trump administration has acknowledged this by officially declaring the opioid epidemic to be a ‘national crisis’. In order to make real headway, though, it’s necessary to take the right approach and dispel common misconceptions that lock people in addiction. The good news is that there are millions of people who are living proof that, with the right approach, addiction can be beaten. So what are the common misconceptions about addiction that we must challenge to make progress?
3 misconceptions about addiction
- Addiction is genetic. Everything is genetic to some extent, but despite what you may have heard, there’s no evidence that some people have a gene that dooms them to addiction. As the researcher and addiction expert Lance Dodes puts it, ‘the most important finding of research into a genetic role for alcoholism is that there is no such thing as a gene for alcoholism.’ However, belief in genetic determinism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The conviction that genes determine addiction robs people of hope and creates an atmosphere of fatalism among friends and family which greatly hinders the healing process.
- Addiction is a choice. At the other end of the spectrum is the belief that addiction is just a choice that one can make with sufficient willpower. Of course, addicts have as much free will as anyone else, but all the evidence shows that the willpower alone strategy usually makes addiction worse. This is because simply trying to quit activates the cycle of shame and guilt that drives the addict back to drugs or alcohol. Without the right help, the harder you try, the harder you fail.
- Addiction causes permanent changes to the brain. While addiction has effects on the brain, you must always bear in mind that almost all of these are all reversible. The most important thing to understand about the brain is the concept of neuroplasticity: the brain has a tremendous potential to grow, develop, and change for adults as well as children. With the right psychological assistance, the reward pathways that drive an addict back to drugs or alcohol can and will change.