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Misconceptions About Addiction

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

April 15, 2024

Table of Contents

Among the 48 million U.S. adults with diagnosable addictions in 2022, only 10 million engaged with treatment. Many factors, from financial constraints to emotional challenges, can deter people from seeking the help they need. Misconceptions about drug addiction or alcoholism can also play a role in perpetuating social stigma and isolation.  These unfounded beliefs can provoke feelings of shame or guilt, preventing people from pursuing appropriate addiction treatment. Find out what are some of the common misconceptions about addiction and discover how to connect with compassionate care.

What Are Common Misconceptions About Addiction?

Common misconceptions about drug addiction include:

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  • Addiction is not treatable
  • Substance abuse is a choice
  • Relapse equals failure
  • Individuals with addictions are unemployed
  • Alcohol addiction is not as serious as drug addiction
  • Recovery requires hitting rock bottom
  • There is a universal solution for addiction

Addiction is not treatable

Addiction, while not curable, is highly treatable with the right blend of evidence-based treatments. Clinically described as substance use disorder, addiction can trigger significant changes to the structure and function of the brain. Despite these abnormalities, recovery is still attainable with therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.

Substance abuse is a choice

Another widespread misconception is that addiction is a choice and that people can simply choose to stop at any time.  Addiction, though, is a chronic brain disorder with many underlying causes. Roughly half of someone’s risk profile for addiction is genetic, with social factors, mental health issues, and trauma all playing potential roles in its development. While someone may initially choose to use drugs or alcohol, addiction is characterized by compulsive use of substances regardless of adverse outcomes.

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Relapse equals failure

Addictions are relapsing conditions – research shows that between 40% and 60% of those who engage with treatment relapse at least once. Not only is relapse a strong possibility for anyone in recovery, but it signifies the need to adjust the treatment plan rather than indicating failure.

Individuals with addictions are unemployed

Society often stereotypes people with addictions as unable to hold down jobs or lead successful lives. That said, many people who struggle with substance use disorder are high-functioning, excelling in their personal and professional lives while secretly battling drug addiction or alcoholism. This misconception can delay necessary interventions by friends or family.

Alcohol addiction is not as serious as drug addiction

Although alcohol is socially accepted and widely used, it’s a mistake to consider alcohol use disorder less severe than drug addiction. Alcohol is a potent and highly addictive substance, and its abuse ranks among the leading causes of preventable death in the United States.

Recovery requires hitting rock bottom

The notion that someone needs to hit rock bottom before initiating their recovery is inaccurate and misleading. Addiction is a progressive condition that almost always gets worse if untreated. Early recognition and intervention can streamline the recovery process. Waiting for a catastrophic low point, by contrast, could trigger irreversible consequences.

There is a universal solution for addiction

No single treatment works for everyone struggling with addiction. Effective treatment plans are always highly personalized, accounting for the unique needs and circumstances of each person. Typical interventions include MAT (medication-assisted treatment), psychotherapy, and counseling.

Understanding and challenging these myths can help combat stigma and encourage those affected by addiction to seek the help they need without shame or guilt.

How Can We Combat Misconceptions About Addiction?

Addressing and dismantling the widespread misconceptions about addiction is beneficial for everyone touched by addiction. Misconceptions not only perpetuate stigma, but also hinder people from connecting with the help they need. Here’s how to dispel some of the myths surrounding substance use disorder:

  • Education and awareness: Enhancing public education on the nature of addiction as a complex brain disease can shift perceptions. This involves integrating comprehensive addiction education into school curricula, community programs, and healthcare settings to provide people with accurate information from a young age.
  • Sharing personal stories: Encouraging people who are comfortable with sharing their journey of addiction and recovery can humanize the issue and challenge stereotypes. Personal stories can illuminate the struggles and successes of recovery, breaking down barriers of misunderstanding and judgment.
  • Promoting compassion and empathy: Cultivating a compassionate and empathetic environment through media representation and community engagement can challenge dated narratives around addiction. This includes portraying people with addictions with respect and dignity in film, TV, and news media.
  • Policy change and advocacy: Advocates can work toward policy changes that improve access to evidence-based treatments and protect the rights of those in recovery.
  • Leveraging social media: Social media platforms can be powerful tools for spreading awareness and countering myths. Campaigns and initiatives that use social media to disseminate facts, debunk myths, and promote more positive messages about recovery can reach wide audiences.
  • Training healthcare professionals: Ensuring that healthcare providers receive training on the latest addiction science and treatment approaches can improve outcomes for individuals with addictions. This includes educating them on the importance of using non-stigmatizing language and adopting a compassionate approach to treatment.

By implementing these strategies, society can continue moving toward a more informed and compassionate approach to addiction, reducing stigma and encouraging those affected to seek help without fear of judgment.

How Do I Tell My Loved Ones I Have an Addiction?

Take time to reflect on what you want to say. It might help to write down your thoughts or points you want to cover to ensure that you communicate clearly and don’t forget anything important.

Find a quiet, private time to talk when you and your loved ones are calm and not distracted by other obligations or stresses.

When communicating, use “I” statements to express your feelings and experiences non-confrontationally. Honesty in these discussions sets the foundation for ongoing understanding and support.

Share what type of support you’re looking for, whether it’s help finding treatment, someone to listen to you, or emotional guidance. Making your needs clear can guide your friends or family on how they can best support you.

Your loved ones may not fully understand addiction. Providing resources or suggesting ways they can learn more about what you’re going through can be helpful.

Keep in mind that your loved ones might react in unexpected ways, including shock, denial, or anger. Stay calm and remind them (and yourself) that the purpose of the conversation is to seek support and kickstart the recovery journey.

Is There Anyone I Can Call if I Can’t Tell Loved Ones?

If you feel unable to tell your loved ones about your struggles with substance use, calling an addiction hotline could be life-changing. Call 855-701-0479 for confidential advice about addiction and referrals to treatment providers near you.

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Get Compassionate Treatment for Addiction at Renaissance Recovery

Addiction might be misunderstood, but it’s highly treatable with the right evidence-based therapies. If you need help for yourself or something you care about, reach out to Renaissance.

We treat addictions and mental health conditions in an outpatient setting at our rehab center in Huntington Beach, California. This enables you to engage with therapy sessions around your existing commitments, providing a flexible and affordable path to recovery.

Expect to engage with a personalized blend of therapies that may include:

When you’re ready to move beyond addiction, call 866.330.9449.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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