MYTH #1: Drug addiction is voluntary behavior.

A person starts out as an occasional drug user, which may indeed be a voluntary choice. But over time, with continued use, that person becomes a compulsive drug user. The continued use of addictive drugs often changes your brain in dramatic ways, and virtually always results in compulsive and even uncontrollable drug use.

MYTH #2: More than anything else, drug addiction is a character flaw.

Drug addiction is a disease affecting the brain, and the body. Every drug changes how the brain functions. But regardless of which drug a person is addicted to, many of the effects it has on the brain are similar. They are: changes in the cells that make up the brain; personality and mood changes; changes in memory processes and motor skills; and other physical and mental disorders. Drug addiction becomes the most powerful motivator in a drug abuser's existence, and an addict will do almost anything for the drug.

MYTH #3: You must truly want drug treatment for it to be effective.

The truth is, no one wants to volunteer for drug treatment. Two primary reasons people enter drug treatment is because the court ordered treatment, or because loved ones have urged them to seek treatment. Studies reveal that drug abusers who enter drug treatment programs because of "high pressure" from friends and family, do comparatively better in treatment, regardless of the reason they sought treatment in the first place.

MYTH #4: Treatment for drug addiction should be a one-shot deal.

Like many other illnesses, drug addiction typically is a chronic disorder. To be sure, some people can quit drug use "cold turkey," or they can quit after receiving treatment just one time at a rehabilitation facility. But many who abuse drugs require longer-term treatment and, in many instances, repeated treatments.

MYTH #5: There should be "one treatment" to cure all types of drug abuse.

There is no "one size fits all" form of drug treatment, much less a magic bullet that suddenly will cure addiction. Different people have different drug abuse-related problems. And they respond very differently to similar forms of treatment, even when they're abusing the same drug. As a result, drug addicts need an array of treatments and services tailored to address their unique needs.

MYTH #6: People don't need treatment. They can stop using drugs if they really want to.

It is extremely difficult for people addicted to drugs to achieve and maintain long-term abstinence. Research shows long-term drug use actually changes a person's brain function, causing them to crave the drug even more, making it increasingly difficult for the person to quit. Especially for adolescents, intervening and stopping substance abuse early is important, as children become addicted to drugs much faster than adults and risk greater physical, mental and psychological harm from illicit drug use.

MYTH #7: Treatment just doesn't work.

Treatment can and does help people. Studies show drug treatment reduces drug use by 40 to 60 percent and can significantly decrease criminal activity during and after treatment. There is also evidence that drug addiction treatment reduces the risk of HIV infection (intravenous -drug users who enter and stay in treatment are up to six times less likely to become infected with HIV than other users) and improves the prospects for employment, with gains of up to 40 percent after treatment.

MYTH #8: Nobody will voluntarily seek treatment until they hit "rock bottom."

There are many things that can motivate a person to enter and complete substance abuse treatment before they hit "rock bottom." Pressure from family members and employers, as well as personal recognition that they have a problem, can be powerful motivating factors for individuals to seek treatment. For teens, parents and school administrators are often driving forces in getting them into treatment once problems at home or in school develop but before situations become dire.

MYTH #9: You can't force someone into treatment.

Treatment does not have to be voluntary. People coerced into treatment by the legal system can be just as successful as those who enter treatment voluntarily. Sometimes they do better, as they are more likely to remain in treatment longer and to complete the program.

MYTH #10: There should be a standard treatment program for everyone.

One treatment method is not necessarily appropriate for everyone. The best programs develop an individual treatment plan based on a thorough assessment of the individual's problems. These plans may combine a variety of methods tailored to address each person's specific needs and may include behavioral therapy (such as counseling, cognitive therapy or psychotherapy), medications, or a combination. Referrals to other medical, psychological and social services may also be crucial components of treatment for many people. Furthermore, treatment for teens varies depending on the child's age, maturity and family/peer environment, and relies more heavily than adult treatment on family involvement during the recovery process. "[They] must be approached differently than adults because of their unique developmental issues, differences in their values and belief systems, and environmental considerations (e.g., strong peer influences)."

MYTH #11: If you've tried one doctor or treatment program, you've tried them all.

Not every doctor or program may be the right fit for someone seeking treatment. For many, finding an approach that is personally effective for treating their addiction can mean trying out several different doctors and/or treatment centers before a perfect "match" is found between patient and program.

MYTH #12: People can successfully finish drug abuse treatment in a couple of weeks if they're truly motivated.

Research indicates a minimum of 90 days of treatment for residential and outpatient drug-free programs, and 21 days for short-term inpatient programs to have an effect. To maintain the treatment effect, follow up supervision and support are essential. In all recovery programs the best predictor of success is the length of treatment. Patients who remain at least a year are more than twice as likely to remain drug free, and a recent study showed adolescents who met or exceeded the minimum treatment time were over one and a half times more likely to abstain from drug and alcohol use 4 However, completing a treatment program is merely the first step in the struggle for recovery that can extend throughout a person's entire lifetime.

MYTH #13: People who continue to abuse drugs after treatment are hopeless.

Drug addiction is a chronic disorder; occasional relapse does not mean failure.

Psychological stress from work or family problems, social cues (i.e. meeting individuals from one's drug-using past), or their environment (i.e. encountering streets, objects, or even smells associated with drug use) can easily trigger a relapse. Addicts are most vulnerable to drug use during the few months immediately following their release from treatment. Children are especially at risk for relapse when forced to return to family and environmental situations that initially led them to abuse substances. Recovery is a long process and frequently requires multiple treatment attempts before complete and consistent sobriety can be achieved.

SOURCES (unless otherwise noted): Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide. (October 1999). National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institute of Health; Alan I. Leshner, Ph.D., former Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (2001) Found on the website of The Partnership for a Drug-Free Americaª

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