Every single day, millions of people battle addiction. Some people are addicted to legal and illegal substances, such as alcohol or marijuana, while others are addicted to engaging in certain activities, like gambling or shopping. In any given case, consistent use of the substance or engagement in the behavior proves to have detrimental effects on the addict as well as those close to them—so why don’t they just stop? Though it is rarely recognized as such, addiction is a disease… which means it can’t be willed away or resolved very easily. And that’s just one of many misconceptions that needs to be corrected. Fortunately enough, the professionals—from therapists to addiction counselors, neuroscientists, and intervention specialists—are here to continue that conversation. Here’s what they want you to know about addiction:
1) Addiction isn’t a simple lack of will power.
“The biggest misconception that people have about addiction is the belief that it’s a matter of will power,” says Billie Bemis, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Addiction Counselor. “This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Addiction is not simply a matter of a lack of self-control or personal character. Addiction is a disease, and in fact, a brain disease because it disrupts the manner in which the brain functions.”
2) You can’t merely “shake” an addiction.
Another big misconception is that addiction is easy to overcome if you just put your mind to it. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, says Malcolm Collins, neuroscientist best-selling author of The Pragmatist’s Guide to Life. “In cartoons, addiction is always painted as a primal nagging voice in your head that your logical ‘real’ self fights against. Because of this, many grow up believing that if they get addicted all they will have to do is learn to ignore some nagging inner voice. The reality is that the addicted side of you has access to every ounce of intelligence, shrewdness, cunning, and wit that the part of you arguing against indulging in an addiction has access to. You can’t outsmart an addiction,” Collins explains.
3) Addicts see the world differently.
Intervention Specialist at U Recover, Frank Say builds off of Malcolm’s point and says that this disease causes one to think illogically—but to the addict, it makes complete sense. “Addiction is a disease of the brain and compromises much the way an addict sees the world and thinks. Their next drink or drug is equal to a normal person’s next breath. This is why addicts have such bizarre behaviors and do what most people see as crazy. The drug is first priority over family, friends, job, and their own health. There is nothing logical about a mother leaving her toddler in a running car to get drugs late at night from the perspective of an average person. It’s completely understandable when you take into consideration the addict’s brain has been hijacked.”
4) Addiction is not linear, but fluid.
“Everyone should also know that addiction is not linear,” says Stephanie Butchart, Founder and Lead Facilitator at The Ellis Method. “When we expect a specific course of action in a patient’s process, we limit the possibilities of change; when we see addiction as one straight line, we subconsciously influence a sense of control over another’s individuality. For instance, if a person relapses and we have been projecting a narrow-minded perspective of outcomes, we limit our changes to use these opportunities for change and growth moving forward. Addiction is fluid and moves from one moment to the next and back again. When we are aware of this, we are better prepared for potential changes.”
5) The key to recovery is regaining control.
Dr. Joseph J. Bradley, Pain Management Specialist and Creator of the Chronic Pain Program at Solutions Recovery Treatment Center wants you to know that while addiction is a severe illness, it can be managed. “Addiction is a chronic illness and as such needs to be managed for life,” he explains. Although addiction is the number one healthcare concern in the United States, it is also 100% manageable. The main key to recovery is not simply to achieve and maintain abstinence, but rather regain control over and be the best version of yourself in life.”
6) Recovering addicts are all around us.
And finally, it’s important to realize that recovering addicts are all around us, as explained by Licensed Clinical Social Worker Dr. Sal Raichbach: “I wish people understood that recovering addicts are all around us. People tend to think that even if they have been sober for a significant amount of time, a sober addict or alcoholic is still confined to the fringes of society or sitting in 12-step meetings all day. You wouldn’t know it, but recovering people are all around us. From the waitress at your favorite restaurant to your child’s first-grade teacher. They are ordinary people living successful, happy lives. If more people understood that, I think it would help to reduce the stigma. Recovery is possible, and it happens all the time.”