Before I was addicted to heroin, I was just like everyone else. I came from a decent family; I didn’t have a shady criminal past. I would even go to church on most Sundays and help my grandma with chores around her house. I was just like you.
Then I was a heroin addict.
Now, I’ve been in recovery for years and have gained some perspective on the experience. If you’ve never walked this path yourself, and I hope you haven’t, you won’t fully understand what an addict goes through. That’s ok.
But if you try to understand, you just might help reach a loved one struggling with addiction. I believe if we can all gain a better understanding of addiction, we can start to heal as a society.
We can start by clearing up some common misconceptions. The following are six common misconceptions that I’ve encountered.
1. Addicts have chosen this life
In almost every case, an addict makes a choice to use an addictive substance. This is a fact that cannot be disputed. However, addiction is much more complicated than that. For a better understanding, let’s look a commonly abused substance: alcohol.
John and Ben have a drink or two together on most weeknights. After some time, John expands his drinking so much that he can’t even wake up without a beer. Ben cuts back significantly when he sees how drinking has affected his buddy. They both made the initial choice to use an addictive substance, but only one became addicted.
It's likely that John was genetically, demographically, or psychologically predisposed to addiction. He didn't know he was predisposed and Ben didn’t know he wasn’t. Is one of these guys more guiltier than the other?
2. Everyone who uses illegal drugs is an addict
Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs known to man, but it’s unlikely that you’ll develop an addiction with your first try. Read that as unlikely not impossible (don’t go trying heroin to find out). The more often you use heroin, the more likely your brain is to depend on the drug. Once your brain is dependent, you are addicted. This happens at different rates for different people.
Most people who do heroin are addicted, but I have known an exception or two. However, there are other substances that are used more casually like cocaine, alcohol, ecstasy, and marijuana. It's concerning to find a bag of pills in your daughter's room, and it should most definitely be addressed, but it doesn't necessarily mean she's an addict.[G2]
3. You can spot an addict from a mile away
Most people don’t realize how many addicts there are in this world. Estimates show that 23.5 million Americans are addicted. Could your over-achieving co-worker be addicted to cocaine or Adderall? Is your soccer mom friend popping Xanax pills when no one is looking? We don’t know. The point isn’t that you should suspect everyone of drug addiction, but you should know that it’s easier to hide some forms of addiction over others.
4. You’re not addicted if your doctor is still writing the prescription
It's easy to become addicted to opioids, and it can be difficult for your doctor to spot addiction before it gets out of control. Since heroin mimics the effects of prescription painkillers, this path has led many other people to heroin too.
5. Relapse is failure
In Alcoholics Anonymous, they strive for “progress not perfection.” That's how every recovering addict should look at their journey. Recovery is hard. Relapses happen. It doesn't mean you've failed. It simply means you have to get back up and try again. Just remember that the further you get into a relapse, the harder it will be to get out. One slip is much easier to recover from than a one-week bender.
6. Alcohol is less dangerous than other substances
Did you know that alcohol recovery comes with some of the most severe withdrawal symptoms of any substance? A condition called DTS (or the shakes) that some recovering alcoholics experience can be deadly.
Alcohol was also named as the most harmful drug in a 2010 Lancet study. That's right; alcohol beat out heroin, crack, and cocaine for the title of the most harmful drug.
Once you understand the misconceptions, you can begin to understand the struggles of someone who is recovering from substance abuse. If you or someone you love is in recovery, have patience with yourself and those around you. Along with understanding, a little patience goes a long way.
About the Author:
Trevor McDonald is a freelance writer and recovering addict & alcoholic who has been clean and sober for over 5 years. Since his recovery began, he has enjoyed using his talent for words to help spread treatment resources and addiction awareness. In his free time, you can find him working with recovering addicts or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable.