Wasted filmmaker Maureen Palmer and her partner Mike Pond start a new conversation about the science of addiction. They examine the biological origins of addiction and why some old models of treatment don’t work for many.
Here are five of the most pervasive myths about addiction that are smashed by evidence-based science.
1. If they just had enough willpower, they’d kick their habit.
Say you do the same thing 100 times on your computer. Your computer doesn’t change. But if your brain does the same thing over and over, the structure itself changes. Neuroscience has proven that the reward circuitry in susceptible person’s brains can be altered by repeated use of booze or drugs, essentially overriding the user’s free will to stop — so the choice to not use is much more complicated than a lack of willpower.
2. Getting tough with the substance user will make him/her stop using.
Studies show tough love, shaming and blaming and humiliating persons addicted to alcohol will only make their addiction worse. They will feel even worse about themselves and may use more, often in secret. To quote Dr. Keith Humphreys, the former senior advisor on alcohol and drug policy to the Obama White house, “It’s remarkable that people believe what’s needed is more punishment. If punishment worked, nobody would be addicted. It’s a pretty punishing experience.”
3. Relapse is a fail.
It’s common practice to kick people out of rehab if they begin drinking or using again. But it’s wrong, according to the world’s experts. Dr. Humphreys says, “This is the only field where you can be kicked out of treatment for demonstrating that the diagnosis was accurate. I view that as uncompassionate and really poor healthcare.”
“The idea that if you have one drink, then invariably you’re going to drink a huge amount of alcohol just is not how treatment outcome data look,” says Dr. Bill Miller, one of the greatest authorities on alcoholism. “You can find individuals who look that way, but in general, what you see over time is longer and longer periods of going by in between episodes of drinking. And the episodes of drinking get shorter and less severe overtime, and then eventually fade away. “
4. He’s just one of those guys who has to hit rock bottom.
For thousands of people every year, “rock bottom” is injury, disease and death. The evidence shows addiction should be treated like any other serious chronic health disorder, early treatment, utilizing every option available with community and medical support. Early screening and brief interventions for unsafe alcohol use could save thousands of lives and billions of taxpayer dollars spent on the consequences caused by out-of-control substance use.
5. You don’t use drugs to get off drugs.
There is a widespread but erroneous belief in AA circles that you don’t use one substance to get off another. This is ignorant to the fact that, for many individuals there is a new generation of drugs that minimize cravings and help prevent relapse that can provide sufferers with a valuable new tool to manage their disorder.