Myths and Facts About Substance Use

Reviewed Mar 12, 2016

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Summary

Before forming an opinion about someone with substance use problems, consider these common myths.

“Those who overuse substances have a moral flaw.”

"People with alcohol and substance use disorders don’t want to quit—if they did, they would just stop using.”

"Locking up all the people who overuse substances will solve the problem.”

These and many other myths about drug use add to the problem. The stigma tied to drug use discourages treatment for addiction and limits chances for work, housing, and social relationships. Although drug use has a deep, harmful impact on society, it is not an insurmountable problem. Become part of the answer by helping to stop stigma.

Identifying the problem

Most American families have been touched in some way by a loved one with problems with drugs or drinking. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use & Health, 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older said they had used an illicit drug during the month before the survey.

Unfortunately, many people who have problems with drug use will come across stigma that hinders them from integrating back into society. Police, the legal system, ER staff, and even family members and friends can keep the stigma going, and stigma limits the attention and resources dedicated to solving problems linked to substance use. “Stigma is about discrimination,” says Ivette Torres, Director of Consumer Affairs for SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

Separating myth from fact

Stigma comes from the myths about drug use. Before forming an opinion about someone with substance use problems, think over these common myths:

Myth: Those who overuse substances have a moral flaw—they could will themselves to stop using if they wanted to quit.

Fact: One common and false stereotype about people with substance use disorders is that they are all social misfits and outcasts. “Stigma can also get at the idea that the person is weak of character or untrustworthy,” explains Jim Beek, a SAMHSA information officer. In reality, “normal” people deal with drug use issues, which can touch whole families. Drug and alcohol dependence meet the standards for treatable, chronic health issues; dependence is not simply a matter of choice. “One of the biggest and most pervasive myths is that … a user can stop using alcohol or drugs by willing themselves to,” agrees Torres. “Society at large has to accept addiction treatment and begin to look at it as a public health issue.”

Myth: Addiction is not reversible: Once an addicted to a substance, it is always that way.

Fact: Many people don’t realize how helpful programs and services can be in treating substance use disorder. In fact, drug addiction treatment works as well as established medical treatments for other illnesses such as diabetes and asthma, the Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy has reported. Another study found that for each dollar invested in treatment, taxpayers saved $7 in future costs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Unfortunately, the shame tied to being labeled or viewed negatively by others can keep people from seeking care. “Stigma is a factor,” Torres notes. “That’s why you see so many individuals speaking out, saying, ‘Recovery is possible. I am an example of that.’’’ And luckily, new choices, such as the prescription addiction treatment drug buprenorphine, can help stop the stigma linked to lining up outside a clinic.

Myth: Harsher criminal penalties for using drugs or increasing efforts to cut off the drug supply will solve the problem.

Fact: This common wisdom is at odds with research showing the effectiveness of treatment. And, keep in mind that there is no “silver bullet” when it comes to solving drug use problems. While a blend of things such as treatment, parental influence, and education programs can help, taken alone, “get tough” approaches don’t address the underlying social and family issues linked to drug use.

You can help

While views about people with drug problems and treatments have gotten better, we still have a long way to go toward skillfully addressing these issues. You can help by facing your own attitudes. If you know someone who may have a drug problem, treat him with concern, dignity, and respect. Rather than turning your back or getting angry, offer your support.

Resources

National Institute on Drug Abuse
www.drugabuse.gov
 
Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy
www.plndp.org
 
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
www.samhsa.gov/

By Kristen Knight
Source: Jim Beek, Information Officer, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; Ivette Torres, Director of Consumer Affairs, SAMHSA Center for Substance Abuse Treatment; Austin/Travis County Community Action Network; The Connecticut Women's Consortium; CrossCurrents: The Journal of Addiction & Mental Health; National Institute on Drug Abuse; Peer Assistance Services; Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; You Can't Do It Alone by Monsignor William B. O'Brien and Ellis Henican. Simon & Schuster, 1993; Shattering Myths & Mysteries of Alcohol by Raymond V. Haring, PhD. HealthSpan Communications, 1998.
Reviewed by Vincent Krasevic, MD, MPH, Physician Advisor, Beacon Health Options

Summary

Before forming an opinion about someone with substance use problems, consider these common myths.

“Those who overuse substances have a moral flaw.”

"People with alcohol and substance use disorders don’t want to quit—if they did, they would just stop using.”

"Locking up all the people who overuse substances will solve the problem.”

These and many other myths about drug use add to the problem. The stigma tied to drug use discourages treatment for addiction and limits chances for work, housing, and social relationships. Although drug use has a deep, harmful impact on society, it is not an insurmountable problem. Become part of the answer by helping to stop stigma.

Identifying the problem

Most American families have been touched in some way by a loved one with problems with drugs or drinking. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use & Health, 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older said they had used an illicit drug during the month before the survey.

Unfortunately, many people who have problems with drug use will come across stigma that hinders them from integrating back into society. Police, the legal system, ER staff, and even family members and friends can keep the stigma going, and stigma limits the attention and resources dedicated to solving problems linked to substance use. “Stigma is about discrimination,” says Ivette Torres, Director of Consumer Affairs for SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

Separating myth from fact

Stigma comes from the myths about drug use. Before forming an opinion about someone with substance use problems, think over these common myths:

Myth: Those who overuse substances have a moral flaw—they could will themselves to stop using if they wanted to quit.

Fact: One common and false stereotype about people with substance use disorders is that they are all social misfits and outcasts. “Stigma can also get at the idea that the person is weak of character or untrustworthy,” explains Jim Beek, a SAMHSA information officer. In reality, “normal” people deal with drug use issues, which can touch whole families. Drug and alcohol dependence meet the standards for treatable, chronic health issues; dependence is not simply a matter of choice. “One of the biggest and most pervasive myths is that … a user can stop using alcohol or drugs by willing themselves to,” agrees Torres. “Society at large has to accept addiction treatment and begin to look at it as a public health issue.”

Myth: Addiction is not reversible: Once an addicted to a substance, it is always that way.

Fact: Many people don’t realize how helpful programs and services can be in treating substance use disorder. In fact, drug addiction treatment works as well as established medical treatments for other illnesses such as diabetes and asthma, the Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy has reported. Another study found that for each dollar invested in treatment, taxpayers saved $7 in future costs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Unfortunately, the shame tied to being labeled or viewed negatively by others can keep people from seeking care. “Stigma is a factor,” Torres notes. “That’s why you see so many individuals speaking out, saying, ‘Recovery is possible. I am an example of that.’’’ And luckily, new choices, such as the prescription addiction treatment drug buprenorphine, can help stop the stigma linked to lining up outside a clinic.

Myth: Harsher criminal penalties for using drugs or increasing efforts to cut off the drug supply will solve the problem.

Fact: This common wisdom is at odds with research showing the effectiveness of treatment. And, keep in mind that there is no “silver bullet” when it comes to solving drug use problems. While a blend of things such as treatment, parental influence, and education programs can help, taken alone, “get tough” approaches don’t address the underlying social and family issues linked to drug use.

You can help

While views about people with drug problems and treatments have gotten better, we still have a long way to go toward skillfully addressing these issues. You can help by facing your own attitudes. If you know someone who may have a drug problem, treat him with concern, dignity, and respect. Rather than turning your back or getting angry, offer your support.

Resources

National Institute on Drug Abuse
www.drugabuse.gov
 
Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy
www.plndp.org
 
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
www.samhsa.gov/

By Kristen Knight
Source: Jim Beek, Information Officer, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; Ivette Torres, Director of Consumer Affairs, SAMHSA Center for Substance Abuse Treatment; Austin/Travis County Community Action Network; The Connecticut Women's Consortium; CrossCurrents: The Journal of Addiction & Mental Health; National Institute on Drug Abuse; Peer Assistance Services; Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; You Can't Do It Alone by Monsignor William B. O'Brien and Ellis Henican. Simon & Schuster, 1993; Shattering Myths & Mysteries of Alcohol by Raymond V. Haring, PhD. HealthSpan Communications, 1998.
Reviewed by Vincent Krasevic, MD, MPH, Physician Advisor, Beacon Health Options

Summary

Before forming an opinion about someone with substance use problems, consider these common myths.

“Those who overuse substances have a moral flaw.”

"People with alcohol and substance use disorders don’t want to quit—if they did, they would just stop using.”

"Locking up all the people who overuse substances will solve the problem.”

These and many other myths about drug use add to the problem. The stigma tied to drug use discourages treatment for addiction and limits chances for work, housing, and social relationships. Although drug use has a deep, harmful impact on society, it is not an insurmountable problem. Become part of the answer by helping to stop stigma.

Identifying the problem

Most American families have been touched in some way by a loved one with problems with drugs or drinking. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use & Health, 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older said they had used an illicit drug during the month before the survey.

Unfortunately, many people who have problems with drug use will come across stigma that hinders them from integrating back into society. Police, the legal system, ER staff, and even family members and friends can keep the stigma going, and stigma limits the attention and resources dedicated to solving problems linked to substance use. “Stigma is about discrimination,” says Ivette Torres, Director of Consumer Affairs for SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

Separating myth from fact

Stigma comes from the myths about drug use. Before forming an opinion about someone with substance use problems, think over these common myths:

Myth: Those who overuse substances have a moral flaw—they could will themselves to stop using if they wanted to quit.

Fact: One common and false stereotype about people with substance use disorders is that they are all social misfits and outcasts. “Stigma can also get at the idea that the person is weak of character or untrustworthy,” explains Jim Beek, a SAMHSA information officer. In reality, “normal” people deal with drug use issues, which can touch whole families. Drug and alcohol dependence meet the standards for treatable, chronic health issues; dependence is not simply a matter of choice. “One of the biggest and most pervasive myths is that … a user can stop using alcohol or drugs by willing themselves to,” agrees Torres. “Society at large has to accept addiction treatment and begin to look at it as a public health issue.”

Myth: Addiction is not reversible: Once an addicted to a substance, it is always that way.

Fact: Many people don’t realize how helpful programs and services can be in treating substance use disorder. In fact, drug addiction treatment works as well as established medical treatments for other illnesses such as diabetes and asthma, the Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy has reported. Another study found that for each dollar invested in treatment, taxpayers saved $7 in future costs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Unfortunately, the shame tied to being labeled or viewed negatively by others can keep people from seeking care. “Stigma is a factor,” Torres notes. “That’s why you see so many individuals speaking out, saying, ‘Recovery is possible. I am an example of that.’’’ And luckily, new choices, such as the prescription addiction treatment drug buprenorphine, can help stop the stigma linked to lining up outside a clinic.

Myth: Harsher criminal penalties for using drugs or increasing efforts to cut off the drug supply will solve the problem.

Fact: This common wisdom is at odds with research showing the effectiveness of treatment. And, keep in mind that there is no “silver bullet” when it comes to solving drug use problems. While a blend of things such as treatment, parental influence, and education programs can help, taken alone, “get tough” approaches don’t address the underlying social and family issues linked to drug use.

You can help

While views about people with drug problems and treatments have gotten better, we still have a long way to go toward skillfully addressing these issues. You can help by facing your own attitudes. If you know someone who may have a drug problem, treat him with concern, dignity, and respect. Rather than turning your back or getting angry, offer your support.

Resources

National Institute on Drug Abuse
www.drugabuse.gov
 
Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy
www.plndp.org
 
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
www.samhsa.gov/

By Kristen Knight
Source: Jim Beek, Information Officer, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; Ivette Torres, Director of Consumer Affairs, SAMHSA Center for Substance Abuse Treatment; Austin/Travis County Community Action Network; The Connecticut Women's Consortium; CrossCurrents: The Journal of Addiction & Mental Health; National Institute on Drug Abuse; Peer Assistance Services; Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; You Can't Do It Alone by Monsignor William B. O'Brien and Ellis Henican. Simon & Schuster, 1993; Shattering Myths & Mysteries of Alcohol by Raymond V. Haring, PhD. HealthSpan Communications, 1998.
Reviewed by Vincent Krasevic, MD, MPH, Physician Advisor, Beacon Health Options

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