Living with the constant presence of the media, we can all be prone to developing stereotypes. Our values can be impacted, our views of race and economy, and even the view we have of ourselves can be quite off the mark. For those of us who are in recovery from substance abuse, we, (and our loved ones) may also carry some significant stereotypes of addicts and of addiction itself. On top of that, since addiction is really a disease of denial, we can hold on to stereotypes quite tightly and end up being stuck in our dysfunctional ways. To shed some light on the subject, below are some commonly held misbeliefs. Some of the information is taken from the Chemical Recovery Ministry website, a national organization which is headquartered in New York City.
The first myth of addiction is that willpower works to overcome it. Some addicts (and their loved ones) think that they can quit using drugs and alcohol any time they want to; they just have to apply themselves and get serious about quitting. This may be true early on when someone is abusing alcohol or drugs, but once use has turned into “enslavement,” then no amount of willpower will be able to suffice. We must relinquish the problem of addiction to our higher power and also accept the help of other supportive people in order to recover.
The second myth of addiction is that my situation is “unique.” This is a powerful myth and garners some extra attention. We can say to ourselves, “If only my marriage wasn’t so bad, or if I had a better job, or if I wasn’t homeless, THEN I would be sober.” Or, we could blame our use on a bad childhood, or growing up around addiction or on our personality. The point is, all of these “reasons” are really irrelevant. It is not important WHY we use, it is only important HOW we use. Do we drink alcoholically or use drugs? That is the real question. To break through this kind of denial, simply ask yourself, “Have I experienced negative consequences as a result of my using and still continue to use anyway?” The following are some common negative consequences:
- Relational difficulties such as broken marriages, short dating relationships or estranged friends can indicate a problem, especially if those loved ones have mentioned your substance abuse to you.
- Drugs and alcohol can devastate us financially.
- Substance abuse can do a number on us physically. We might be suffering from withdrawal, memory loss, mental illness or other physical ailments as a direct consequence of our using.
- We can have a tremendous amount of emotional immaturity. Most of the immaturity lies in the fact that instead of maturing to deal with life’s ordinary difficulties, we use instead and squander emotional growth.
- We can also have numerous spiritual consequences. We may have chronically lied to cover up our using and now are deceitful in other areas as well. We may have maliciously hurt or used other people to get drugs or alcohol. This leads to guilt. We can also humiliate ourselves when drunk or high and this leads to later feelings of remorse and self-hatred.
Examining negative consequences truthfully will give us a good indication of where we are regarding our addiction and can illuminate the myth that our situation justifies our using.
Another myth which can keep us stuck is thinking that “most alcoholics are on skid row.” We have all seen bums lying in the street with a bottle in a paper bag and we can conclude that we are “not like him,” thus fooling us about the gravity of our own use. The fact of the matter is that only a very small percentage of addicts are on “skid row.” Most people are “high-functioning” addicts, holding down a job and having a family. Always comparing ourselves to someone farther down the addiction paradigm can make us blind to where we are ourselves. A common thought in families with generations of alcoholics is, “At least I don’t drink like my father.”
Finally, we can believe the myth, “I’m an alcoholic and not a drug addict” (or vice versa). If we have developed an addictive personality, then we will most likely develop an addiction with a number of interchangeable inanimate objects. If you have given up cocaine, don’t suddenly think you are okay to drink instead, or you’ll just end up with another substance abuse problem. It is the addiction that makes us powerless, not the substance.
The good news with identifying some of the common myths of addiction, is that with help, we can break through the denial that has kept us stuck. Facing the truth about where we are really at is the first major step towards being an overcomer.