Many people view drug abuse and addiction as strictly a social problem. Parents, teens, older adults, and other members of the community tend to characterize people who take drugs as either morally weak or having criminal tendencies. They often believe that drug abusers and addicts should be able to stop taking drugs simply by deciding to change their behavior.
Unfortunately, these views are not based on the realities of addiction. These myths have stereotyped those with addiction and drug-related problems and in turn have caused frustration among families, friends and community members alike.
The Fact vs. Fiction of Addiction
Drug abuse and addiction affect many people and are public health concerns that have wide-ranging social consequences. It is important to understand that addiction is not strictly a social problem—it has physiological, social, psychological and emotional components. We must work on changing long-held myths and mistaken beliefs about drug and alcohol addiction as such. The fact is, there is scientific evidence that supports the belief that addiction is a real disease that is complicated by a combination of physical, mental and social components. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing, yet treatable disease.
Recent scientific research provides overwhelming evidence that alcohol and drugs not only interfere with normal brain function, creating powerful feelings of pleasure, but that they also have long-term effects on brain metabolism and activity.
Though addiction does often begin when an individual makes a conscious choice to use drugs in a social setting, the physiological component of drug use also plays a role in turning an initial light or moderate use of a substance into heavy or habitual use. At some point, changes occur in the brain that can turn drug or alcohol use into an addiction—a chronic, relapsing illness. Those addicted to drugs and alcohol generally suffer from a compulsive craving to use the substance again and usually cannot quit by themselves. Treatment is necessary to end both the physiological addiction and the compulsive behavior.
Addiction Treatment Programs
Research shows that addiction is treatable. A variety of approaches are used in treatment programs to help patients deal with drug and alcohol cravings and, possibly, avoid drug relapse. Through treatment that is tailored to each addict’s individual needs, patients can learn to control their cravings, manage triggers that set off those cravings and live relatively normal lives in recovery.
Drug rehab and treatment programs can have a profound effect not only on drug addicts, but also on the addict's family and society as a whole. Addicts who enroll in alcohol treatment or drug rehab programs that include counseling and guidance learn to improve their social and psychological programming. They learn to recognize and break negative behaviors that may have led to the addiction. Drug and alcohol treatment programs can dramatically reduce the costs to society associated with drug abuse.
Public Education Leads to Understanding
Understanding addiction helps in understanding how to treat it and prevent its use in the first place. Results from drug prevention research studies have shown that drug prevention programs that involve the family, schools, communities and media can be effective in reducing drug abuse. It is necessary to keep sending the message that it is better not to start taking drugs at all than to enter treatment and rehabilitation if addiction occurs.
Through good educational anti-drug programs, we can effectively change the ways in which the public understands drug abuse and addiction. Replacing misconceptions with factual, scientifically-based information is society’s best hope for bridging the gap between the public's perception of drug abuse and addiction and the real truth.