Busting Common Myths About Addiction

glass of scotch on bar
Tetra Images/Getty Images

According to a survey by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 8.5 percent of adults in the United States met the criteria for an alcohol use disorder, 2 percent met the criteria for a drug use disorder and 1.1 percent met the criteria for both. These statistics demonstrate that substance addiction may be more common than many realize, even when the statisticians leave out some of many non-substance-related experiences that people can become addicted to, such as food, shopping, and sex.

Despite the prevalence of addiction, many misconceptions about this problem exist. Here are five popular myths about addiction that are important to consider.

1. Addicts Are Weak People and Can Quit If They Really Want To

Addiction does not discriminate and occurs in all walks of life. The statement that addicts are weak people is simply not true. Additionally, once someone becomes addicted to a substance, their brain chemistry is changed and can they become physiologically dependent on that substance. It is actually dangerous for people to quit some substances cold turkey because the sudden change that could wreak havoc on their bodies. Quitting is much more complicated than it may seem to someone who has not been affected by addiction.

2. Addicts Must Hit Rock Bottom Before They Get Better

While it is true for some that their worlds fall apart before they can get better, there is a myth that all addicts need to hit rock bottom before they get better.

This is a very dangerous myth. Many people die before they hit bottom. It is crucial for people with addictions to get help as soon as they can. If a loved one is suffering from addiction, you need not wait until they hit bottom to encourage them to get help. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), other 12 Step Programs or psychotherapy with a qualified mental health professional are all good places to start.

3. AA and 12-Step Programs Are the Only Programs That Can Help

AA and 12-Step Programs are very popular and have helped countless people in recovery. That being said, these programs are not for everyone, and many other approaches to working with addiction exist that can help those for whom AA and other 12-Step Programs are not a good fit. AA, for example, takes an abstinence-based approach to substances, which means that members of AA quit substances altogether. Abstaining from substances works well for some, but can alienate others. A harm reduction approach is another form of substance abuse treatment which focuses on reducing the harm associated with substance abuse, as the name suggests. As an example, if someone is drinking to excess five nights a week and then driving, the first intervention might involve helping this person avoid getting behind the wheel.

4. If Someone Has a Stable Job and Life, They Don't Have an Addiction Problem

The myth that addicts are unable to function is also false. Countless people function daily seemingly well despite having serious addiction problems. The myth that someone who has a stable life does not have an addiction problem fuels much of the denial that typically exists around the problem of addiction.

5. If Someone Relapses, They Will Never Get Better

The bad news is that relapse is an all too common problem with recovery, but the good news is that people do recover from addictions, sometimes after many relapses. A relapse does not mean that the person will never get better, but it can be a sign that their treatment needs to be altered. There are many forms of treatment and recovery is a reality for many people every day.

The above are just five of many myths that exist around substance abuse. Take one of these quizzes to see if addiction might be a problem for you. 


National Institute on Alcohol Abuse, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services: Alcohol Alert, 76, Jul 2008. Alcoholism Publications Distribution Center, Rockville, MD.