As Clinical Director of a relatively large mental health conglomerate that specializes, to a large extent, in the treatment of addiction, I am constantly amazed by the amount of misinformation currently in circulation regarding the causes, nature, consequences, and treatment of addictions. Furthermore, I am saddened by the effect that many of these myths have on the people who are dealing with addiction - primarily the fact that the instant these individuals admit that they have a problem, they are shamed and stigmatized on many levels by family, friends, employers, and society in general, which often delays or prevents them from seeking the help they so desperately need.
I’m still required to finish three years of drug testing before I can earn a state psychology license-in spite of the fact that I’ve already received a PhD, been drug-free for 10 years, successfully completed a drug rehab program, and undergone three years of previous drug testing.
The fact that addicts risk not only familial and social degradation but legal restrictions on housing, driving, child custody, business and professional licensing, etc. may keep many “in the closet” with their problem, even when they know they have an issue and would like to address it. In fact, research conducted by Jaffe and several colleagues shows that stigma and shame are significant barriers to addicts initially seeking treatment. As such, many addicts keep things quiet for as long as possible - too ashamed and/or afraid of stigmatization to seek assistance - choosing instead to continue in their addiction until they experience negative consequences so significant that the people around them finally intervene and push them toward rehab and recovery. Interestingly, this same study finds that education about addiction, especially information that can be anonymously accessed through online sources, helps to reduce the shame/stigma barrier, increasing the likelihood of treatment.
Knowing this, I’d like to provide a bit of that education by addressing six of the most commonly repeated and damaging myths about addiction and recovery. Hopefully this information will help at least one or two addicts overcome their shame and fears about admitting to a problem and seeking help.
The good news is that despite the many myths about addiction, many addicts have sought treatment and established long-term sobriety and recovery, living healthier, happier, and more productive lives. The bad news is that many more addicts are shamed and stigmatized into silence and continued addiction. The simple truth is addiction is a chronic, progressive, and potentially fatal yet treatable disease, much like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. In other words, addicts are not bad people, they are sick people. And they deserve empathetic and supportive treatment just like any other sick person. Hopefully, as the above myths are systematically debunked, an increasing percentage of addicted individuals will seek out the assistance and recovery they desperately need.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of Clinical Development with Elements Behavioral Health. He has developed clinical programs for The Ranch outside Nashville and The Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles.A licensed UCLA MSW graduate and personal trainee of Dr. Patrick Carnes, Mr. Weiss is author of Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men and Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Porn, and Love Addiction,and co-author with Dr. Jennifer Schneider of both Untangling the Web: Sex, Porn, and Fantasy Obsession in the Internet Age and Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effect of Technology and the Internet on Parenting, Work, and Relationships, along with numerous peer-reviewed articles and chapters. For more information for Rob on Facebook and Twitter.