Substance abuse. Recovery. Relapse. We’ve all heard these terms, but sometimes it’s hard to understand the facts behind them…unless you’ve walked a mile in those shoes. Riddled with misunderstandings and myths, chemical dependency remains a mystery to many people.
Addiction does significant damage to a person’s physical health, mental health, and overall well-being, not to mention the harm it does to family and friends. With so many people impacted, it’s important to dispel any confusion surrounding this disease and its’ far-reaching consequences.
Some Truths About Addiction
Let’s go over a few addiction facts and talk about eliminating those lingering misconceptions:
- Fact #1 – Addiction Rewires Brain Circuits
Substance abuse causes changes in the brain. What starts as a euphoric experience becomes a 24/7 effort to simply feel “normal.” The brain’s rewired to compulsively seek that “high.” Even when faced with negative consequences, the addicted brain instinctively dismisses these events; it’s consumed with the goal of getting more drugs. For anyone who’s struggling with chemical dependency, the focus is avoiding withdrawal sickness at all costs.
- Fact #2 – Relapse Isn’t the End
During the recovery process, relapse is common. Many people have one or more relapses. These are often caused by emotional struggles that trigger drug or alcohol use. Keep in mind, just because someone has used again doesn’t mean treatment failed or recovery is unattainable. Relapse is not the end; it’s a learning opportunity. It’s possible to uncover the triggers that led to relapse and put protective measures in place to prevent future relapses. Learn from it and move on.
- Fact #3 – Rock Bottom Isn’t Necessary
One persistent myth is that anyone who’s struggling with substance abuse must hit rock bottom before they can get help. The truth is, it’s not necessary to hit a “bottom” before getting treatment. In fact, the earlier the intervention, the better. Allowing the addictive behaviors to continue makes it harder to change in the long run. Continued use also damages the support systems in a person’s life. Early intervention can decrease the damage done, not to the user, but also to family and friends.
- Fact #4 – Cold Turkey Shouldn’t be on the Menu
Some people reach a point where they decide it’s time to quit using – without tapering or receiving medically supervised detox. This is known as going cold turkey; it’s a process that creates extreme medical dangers and recovery hurdles. Keep in mind that recovery is a process of behavior change. For most, recovery is made up of several stages. In the earliest stages, someone might completely deny their substance abuse. Later, they might be unsure how to address it (or unsure if they even want to), or they might be confused about the proper steps to take to get help. We can’t expect people who are struggling with chemical dependency to simply go cold turkey and then everything will go back to “normal.”
- Fact #5 – Compassion Beats Punishment
Many respond to a loved one’s substance abuse with punishment, shaming, or detachment. This can easily backfire – and often does. Research has shown a compassionate approach is more effective. It’s better to reinforce positive behaviors than to punish negative ones. Showing empathy over anger gets a better response. A Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) approach, based on positive behavior and communication skills, is scientifically proven to help change substance abuse behavior.
- Fact #6 – Goldilocks Got it Right
This fair-haired fairy tale legend knew what she was doing. She kept trying until she found the perfect situation. This is a great philosophy for recovery. A plethora of treatment programs and options exist for those struggling with chemical dependency. Don’t give up if the first method you try isn’t ideal and doesn’t result in the desired outcome. Look for programs that offer qualified professionals, in-depth assessments, and thorough aftercare. If one isn’t a good match, try something else. Keep exploring until you find the method that suits you best.
- Fact# 7 – It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Recovery takes time. It involves learning new coping skills, making huge changes, and building a new life. This doesn’t happen overnight. Many who struggle with substance abuse need long-term care or repeated treatment – and that’s okay. Over time, it’s possible to learn new skills (like patience). Recovery isn’t a sprint – it’s a lifelong journey.
Additional Reading: Just the Facts – Psychological vs Physical Addiction
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