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Myths & Facts About Substance Use:

Overcoming addiction is simply a matter of willpower.
MYTH: You can stop using drugs if you really want to. Prolonged exposure to drugs alters the brain in ways that result in powerful cravings and a compulsion to use. These brain changes make it extremely difficult to quit by sheer force of will.

No one plans to become addicted.
FACT: People may think that they can handle their substance use and that they only use when they want to. But when they want to change the way they use, they may find that it is not that simple.

Addiction is a disease; there’s nothing you can do about it.
MYTH: Most experts agree that addiction is a brain disease, but that doesn’t mean you’re a helpless victim. The brain changes associated with addiction can be treated and reversed through therapy, exercise, counseling, and intervention.

Substance use can be hard to change.
FACT: One thing that makes change so difficult is that the immediate effects of substance use tend to be positive. People may feel good, have more confidence and forget about problems. In contrast, the problems from use might not be obvious for some time.

Addicts have to hit rock bottom before they can get better.
MYTH: Healing can begin at any point in the addiction process—and the earlier, the better. The longer drug abuse continues, the stronger the addiction becomes and the harder it is to treat. Don’t wait to intervene until the addict has lost it all.

Continued substance use, especially heavy use, can cause changes in the body and brain.
FACT: If people develop physical dependence and then stop using, they may experience distressing symptoms of withdrawal. Changes to the brain may be lasting. These changes may be why people continue to crave substances and slip back into substance use long after they have stopped using.

You can’t force someone into treatment. They have to want help.
MYTH: Rehab doesn’t have to be voluntary to be successful. People who are pressured into treatment by their family, employer, or the legal system are just as likely to benefit as those who choose to enter treatment on their own. As they sober up and their thinking clears, many formerly resistant addicts decide they want to change.

Addiction affects many people.
FACT: Those who have not experienced a substance use problem first-hand are likely to have a family member, friend or colleague who has. Although addiction affects men and women of all ages, rates are:

  • two to three times higher in men than women
  • highest among people aged 15 to 24 (Statistics Canada, 2007).
Treatment didn’t work before, so there’s no point trying again.
MYTH: Some cases are hopeless. Recovery from drug addiction is a long process that often involves setbacks. Relapse doesn’t mean that treatment has failed or that you’re a lost cause. Rather, it’s a signal to get back on track, either by going back to treatment or adjusting the treatment approach.

Many possible factors have been considered in trying to explain and understand the causes of addiction.
FACT: One thing is clear: no single factor can be said to cause addiction. People become addicted because of a combination of factors including genetic and environmental factors.

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