Stereotypes of Addiction

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StereotypesThere are many misconceptions that surround drug abuse and addiction, even in this day and age. The most common myth about addiction very well might be the idea that if a drug or alcohol user wants to stop abusing a substance, they can do so if they have enough willpower. Addiction isn’t a choice about something that’s easily stopped. Many in the general population seem to believe addicts are weak-willed individuals who are lacking morals and self-respect. The reported 23.5 million addicts in the United States can vouch for the difficulty that comes with trying to stay away from the substances they so strongly crave.

Specific Substances

As it has grown in popularity, and with laws surrounding its use being hot topics for debate as of late, marijuana is a point of contention for many. Proponents of it love to drill home the idea that cannabis addiction is a myth. Quite the contrary, about nine percent of marijuana users end up addicted. Among those who start using cannabis at a young age, that number jumps to 17 percent, and for daily users of the drug, 25 to 50 percent. Even tobacco has a place in addiction, but people still think of it as a bad habit that can be easily broken if people just tried harder or really wanted to quit. Among adults only, 46.6 million people were smokers at the time of being surveyed in 2009.


Every six seconds, someone dies from a tobacco-related disease. For every one of those deaths, 30 others are battling serious tobacco-related illnesses. An estimated 70 percent of all smokers want to stop, and 40 percent try each year, but only a reported four to seven percent are successful at quitting without medication or other cessation aids. Furthermore, tobacco fans tout the assumption that chewing tobacco is safer due to the smokeless nature of it. However, smokeless tobacco users are at an 80 percent increased risk of oral cancer, coupled with a 60 percent increased risk of esophageal and pancreatic cancer.

There are some drugs that are potent enough to initiate tolerance in an individual after only one use, like heroin, but it’s rare. That being said, prolonged use isn’t needed with any drug for addiction to develop. Some people can use a drug for months or even years and not develop a dependency on it, while others can only sustain a few weeks before they’re feeling withdrawal kick in when they try to stop.

The Best Way to Quit

There are those who promote the cold turkey method to quitting, and there are those who are fans of gradually weaning off a substance. Both like to boast that their method is best, but evidence is contradictory. One 2007 study of 8,000 smokers noted that 22 percent of cold turkey quitters were successful at the second follow-up check, and 27 percent by the third. However, those who tried weaning themselves off tobacco only produced 12 and 16 percent success rates at the same intervals. Until the jury is back with a concrete and final verdict, it’s safe to say one method may work best for some and not others. Whichever method is chosen, detox should be done under medical supervision for most substances.

Among all alcoholics, one study reports that as much as 75 percent can recover from their addiction without professional treatment. That means addiction isn’t a lifelong struggle or disease for everyone it afflicts. That being said, some people will repeatedly relapse and others will crave their favorite substances regularly.

The Myth that Treatment Doesn’t Work

Another popular misconception is that treatment doesn’t work, because relapse rates are so high. After quitting or seeking treatment, 40 to 60 percent of drug addicts relapse and use again at some point. That means an equal amount don’t use again. Relapse rates are higher for some types of addicts than others. The heroin addict is far more likely to relapse than a marijuana addict with all other factors remaining constant. This is because heroin is far more potent and addictive than marijuana. That being said, the 90 percent relapse rate among heroin addicts hardly makes treatment not worth it. If you have even a 10 percent chance of saving your life, you do it.

Many believe addicts can’t be helped and will return to their pre-treatment ways as soon as they settle back into their life outside of rehab. It’s often human nature to focus on the negative, and it’s always more probable

that you’ll hear a story of someone who dragged their family through the trenches of addiction and financial debt with them just to throw it all away and go right back to the path of drug abuse after treatment.

Of course, no addict has contemplated treatment without wondering if it’s worth it if they haven’t hit the mysterious place known as “rock bottom.” First of all, rock bottom isn’t the same for everyone, and waiting until your loved one reaches it could take a very long time in which you’re only letting their addiction fester and weed itself further into other areas of their life. An estimated 75 to 90 percent of addicts are of the high-functioning type, meaning their life isn’t suffering so much that they can’t get by and still abuse their substance of choice. For these individuals, rock bottom may never come but that shouldn’t stop them from seeking help.

Who Becomes Addicted

In more recent years, it has started to become public knowledge that mental illness is common among substance abusers. For that reason, many are of the belief that all addicts are mentally ill, and vice versa — this isn’t true. About half of the severely mentally ill population also struggle with substance abuse. That being said, an addict who does have an underlying mental illness will not benefit well from substance abuse treatment without also receiving treatment for their mental health problems.

Addiction isn’t selective about whom it holds in its clutches. Results from a 2013 survey indicated that seven percent of 8th graders, 18 percent of high school sophomores, and 22.7 percent of high school seniors had used marijuana within the previous month. As of 2004, adolescents accounted for about 10 percent of all substance abuse treatment admissions in America.


Another major myth in the addiction circuit is that there’s a specific gene that determines whether or not an individual has the potential to become addicted to something — anything really. The fact of the matter is there is no specific addiction gene being passed down through generations. Yes, addiction is hereditary. Children of alcoholics are four times more likely to become an alcoholic themselves than the general population is. However, those children are also raised by alcoholic parents. Thus, environmental influence must be accounted for. Roughly 50 percent of the tendency to develop addiction in any given individual is due to genetic code.

The “everybody’s doing it” theory is most popular among youths. Contrary to popular belief, everyone is not experimenting with drugs. More than 86 percent of youths aged 12 to 17 have never tried marijuana, and fewer than two percent have ever tried cocaine.

Drugs don’t deplete your brain cells and leave you with brain damage either. While it is true that dopamine receptors can be altered and depleted in some users, the vast majority will have restored dopamine functioning over time. However, it is important to note that brain damage is possible via other side effects that drug use can cause, like respiratory respiration that is common with opiate abuse.


Addiction is a perpetual disease that affects sufferers both physically and psychologically, creating a dependence on a substance that makes the user feel they cannot cope or function without it.

It affects everyone from the user to their employer and sadly, even their children. Approximately 8.3 million kids across the United States were living with at least one alcoholic or drug-dependent parent in 2006.

There are significant risks involved in mere experimentation with drugs, even trying just one substance one time. Drug-related overdoses claim the lives of 114 people every day. In addition, alcohol poisoning claimed the lives of 88,000 people each year between 2006 and 2010 in the US, shortening each lifespan by about 30 years.

Media Portrayal of Substance Abuse

The media has done a bang-up job of contributing to false ideas surrounding addiction amongst the general population. Happy hour, flowing cocktails, reefers and club drugs are all too common in primetime television shows. They paint a picture of drug and alcohol use as though it’s a mere social activity — even humorous in some lights — that one can easily bounce back from. The media most definitely propagates the “everybody’s doing it” philosophy.

One analysis of modern-day television shows accounted for 4.4 depictions of tobacco use per hour among the 40 percent of all episodes that contained them — a rate that’s twice as much as it was a decade prior. Alcohol is commonly depicted in television as well, with one study on films adolescents are inclined to watch noting the presence of alcohol use in 93 percent of them and illicit drugs in 22 percent. This serves as growing concern for the more than three million problem drinkers who aren’t even 17 years old yet.


Celebrity Stereotypes

Off-screen, celebrities and their private lives contribute to the growing belief that drug use and alcohol use are normal components of an active social life. Tabloid magazines habitually plaster headlines touting celebs’ repeated trips to rehabilitation facilities across their front pages. What the typical young person or impressionable adult sees when they’re standing in the checkout line are the fame and money many are living with despite their actions. Multiple trips to rehab aren’t uncommon among any substance abuser, but most people aren’t famous and thus, their attendance at such institutions stays private. When it’s publicized, an idea forms that persistent drug and alcohol use is manageable and even safe in some respects, as long as you clean up after yourself.

To the general population, it seems like celebrities are more likely to fall prey to addiction than others. This isn’t exactly true. Among Americans over the age of 11, around one in 10 is an addict. Much like the chicken or the egg dilemma, many have posed the question of which comes first, the fame or addiction, and is there a causal relationship?

Fame is not a cause of addiction, but it can be an instigator of substance use and abuse. Many celebrities never would have had access to some of the hard substances that they regularly see at parties and social events. So their fame brought certain elements of addiction into their circle, but they still have the choice of whether or not they use drugs or drink too much. Therein lays the root of their tendency to develop a problem with substance abuse. Can they say no? Does their fame make them less likely to — probably not. Thus, labeling every famous person as some sort of drunk or drug addict is a stereotype at best, if not an insult to the profession altogether.

Middle Class Addicts

The middle class population is popping up more and more often in drug and alcohol addiction studies. While the picture of hardworking adults who like to relax with a glass of wine in the evening continues to be painted, concern continues to mount. The epidemic spans the globe and reaches into other developed nations, like Britain, where one study found that two million British parents reported drinking daily, with the highest earners consuming the most booze.

Of particular concern are females, who are drinking more than they ever have in recent history. From 1998 to 2007, arrests of females for drunk driving increased by 30 percent, while those for males dropped by seven percent during the same time period. Another British study focused on middle class British females, noting that 81 percent admitted to drinking more than safety guidelines recommend, pointing to stress and a need to relax and wind down as the reason. From 1999 to 2008, there was a 52 percent increase in the number of female patients seen in American emergency rooms for serious alcohol intoxication.

A lot of people equate the middle class with good earners carrying strong work ethics; the terminology hardly makes most think of illicit drug abuse, but the middle class suburban population is beginning to account for a large portion of drug abuse and addictions. In the 1990s, prescription drug addictions made their way across the nation into the homes of middle class families.

Today, prescription drugs are still widely abused, but their use is somewhat decreasing due to their high cost and shorter half-life when compared to opiate-based heroin. In their place is heroin, the new drug trend sweeping the suburbs at a lower cost than popping pills. Heroin abuse jumped up 75 percent from 2007 to 2011.

Prescription Access

The idea that prescriptions are locked up tightly and can only be received with a watermarked slip straight from your doctor is long done. Prescription drugs account for a huge portion of illicit drugs being abused in America. A reported 52 million people have used a prescription medicine without a medical need for it in their lifetime, a practice known as misuse. With 22,400 fatal overdoses on prescription drugs in 2005, the epidemic shows no signs of slowing down.

Prescription drugs not hard to come by, contrary to what many believe. About 16.6 percent of abusers receive prescription meds from a friend or family members, and most suppliers — 18.1 percent — receive their drugs from just one doctor. Among students, 90 percent can easily track down these drugs from friends and peers. Among undergraduate college students taking stimulant meds like Ritalin or Adderall surveyed in 2006, 54 percent reported being asked to sell their supply or give it to someone in the previous year.

Alcoholism and Addiction Among Baby Boomers

While a decent part of the middle class may consist of baby boomers, the age group carries enough weight in the world of addiction to stand on its own. On the cusp of being the largest age demographic group alive, 3.1 percent more baby boomers were abusing illicit drugs in 2011 than they were eight years before. For now, the words “substance abuse” might bring to mind the image of college-aged binge drinkers or 30-something unemployed crack addicts, but the middle class baby boomer toting handfuls of pills and too much wine with dinner could soon replace it.


While prescription drug addictions are certainly running rampant across the age group, other illicit substances aren’t out of the picture. Experts predict that the need for drug treatment among adults over the age of 49 will surge from the 2.8 million found from 2002 to 2006, to 5.7 million by the time 2020 gets here. For younger boomers aged 50 to 54, 7.2 percent were engaging in the abuse of illicit substances in 2013, a hike from the 3.4 percent rate in 2002. Among those aged 55 to 59, the rate jumped from 1.9 percent to 6.6 percent in the same time period, and from 1.1 percent to 3.6 percent for those aged 60 to 64. The most common substances of addiction and abuse in individuals 50 and older are benzodiazepines and alcohol combined, and opiate painkillers.


Now that we’ve covered the myths and misconceptions and set the record straight, let’s talk rehab and recovery. As soon as you find the facility that suits your needs, you’ll undergo an intake interview with an admissions counselor and possibly a consulting doctor, too. Everything discussed in that interview will set the stage for the treatment program they map out to treat your individual needs.

Detox is a crucial first step, and medicated detox programs are plentiful in this day and age. In today’s world, detox can be made more comfortable and safe thanks to medical supervision.

During the rehab experience, patients will be screened for mental illness and other medical problems that could interfere with recovery. Any underlying issues will be treated simultaneously to ensure the best possible outcome for recovery.


Rehab International is a service provided by Foundations Recovery Network. As part of the Foundations Recovery Network, our goal is to provide science-based treatments to individuals suffering from issues of addiction and mental illness.

When you call you will be connected to a member of the Foundations Recovery Network who will assist in providing you with any questions you may have regarding the treatment process.

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