Top 11 Drug Abuse Misconceptions and How to Overcome Them

Updated May 30, 2024

When you hear the term "addiction," what is the first image that comes to mind?

If you are like most people, you may have pictured a teenager slumped on a park bench, dressed in dirty, wrinkled clothes. Perhaps you pictured them in a group, laughing at the "thrill" of getting high. Or, maybe you pictured them alone, eyes downcast and hands in their pockets, waiting for the next hit.

Sadly, that stereotype has cemented its way into popular culture to the detriment of many people struggling with addiction. While it is true that drug and alcohol use in college-aged people is most prevalent, the truth is that addiction to illicit drugs, including marijuana, cocaine and hallucinogens, is also increasing among Baby Boomers — a generation that has always been known for higher rates of drug addiction.

Substance use includes more than addiction to illegal drugs. The 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 28.8 million adults struggle with alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use disorder is the medical term for the chronic brain disease that prompts an individual to compulsively drink large amounts of alcohol, resulting in loss of control and negative personality issues when they are not drinking.

Sadly, addiction to prescription drugs has also become more prevalent. The availability of these "doctor-sanctioned" substances has led to large numbers of people of varying ages and economic backgrounds finding themselves in a situation they never anticipated or expected.


Overcoming the cultural stereotype is an important first step — both for an individual struggling with an addiction, as well as their friends and families who are attempting to help them. In general, 10 common misconceptions must be addressed and overcome for someone with a drug or alcohol addiction to truly receive the help they need to regain control over themselves and their life.

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Myth No. 1: If You Want It Badly Enough, You Can Get Clean Whenever You Want.

Truth: Addiction Is a Disease.

Yes, most people choose to consume drugs or alcohol for the first time. Still, over time, the use of these substances can change the chemistry of your brain, specifically in the areas that release feelings of pleasure and relaxation. These areas are sometimes called the "reward circuit" because they are the way your brain tells your body when it experiences something good and wants to experience that again. The brain's chemistry starts to change when a person begins to use and misuse substances like drugs or alcohol. Not only does the "reward circuit" in your brain tell your body that it likes how it feels and wants more, but it also makes those cells less available, meaning the brain will require more and more of that substance to achieve the same feelings of pleasure you had in the beginning.

As an individual continues to seek out those feelings of pleasure and reward, they will continue to need more and more of a substance to achieve those feelings. Eventually, they cannot stop, even if they truly want to. It's not like resolving not to eat chocolate cake or chew your fingernails for a month. Addiction has altered a person's brain function to the point where they cannot function without the substance — or without help.

Myth No. 2: Alcohol Addiction Isn't as Serious as Drug Addiction.

Truth: Addiction to Any Substance Is a Serious, Potentially Life-Threatening Issue.

Some people mistakenly believe that alcohol addiction isn't as serious as drug addiction because alcohol is legal. This couldn't be farther from the truth. Whether or not a substance is "legal" should never determine whether someone is being harmed by its continued use. Over time, alcohol addiction damages the brain, as we mentioned earlier. Alcohol can also potentially damage your heart, liver and pancreas, as well as increase an individual's risk for certain cancers. Excessive drinking can also weaken your immune system, which leaves your body open to a variety of other serious illnesses. Besides the serious physical repercussions to alcohol addiction, alcohol impairs judgment, ultimately causing harm to relationships, damage to property, loss of employment and potentially even the death of the person who is addicted or someone they hurt while under the influence.

Myth No. 3: Addiction Is the Moral or Personal Failure of the Individual.

Truth: Addiction Can Affect People of All Beliefs and Backgrounds.

While many people admit that they first tried illicit drugs because they were curious about how they would feel, most people don't become addicted to a substance because they are inherently bad people. In many cases, people become addicted to a substance because it takes away the loneliness, pain or stress that they are experiencing. Certain environmental factors, social attitudes and even genetics can also impact addiction. The truth is addiction is a much more complex issue than a simple moral shortcoming.

Myth No. 4: Addiction Is All the Same.

Truth: Most Stereotypes About Addiction Come From Misinformation.

As we demonstrated at the beginning, most people think of someone with an addiction as an individual with a disheveled appearance, of lower socioeconomic standing with no ambition and who may have a criminal record or be homeless. This is not usually true. In fact, many people who are caught in the throes of substance use can be considered "high functioning." This means they still work and engage in the hobbies they did previously, and, to a general observer, they are doing fine.

For well-meaning friends and family members, this can be an excuse to turn a blind eye and allow someone with an addiction to continue their destructive behaviors until someone gets hurt. While we certainly understand the desire not to stir up trouble or overreact to a situation, if you suspect that a loved one may have a "high-functioning" addiction, it is still important that they receive help as soon as possible.

Myth No. 5: If My Doctor Prescribed It, I Can't Become Addicted to It.

Truth: You Can Become Addicted to Many Prescription Drugs If You Use Them Incorrectly.

Within the United States, 9% of adults have or will misuse prescription drugs during their lifetime. Opioid prescription deaths increased by 18% from 2017 to 2021. Doctors often prescribe opioids for pain relief, but these medications quickly become dangerous when people take them for too long or in ways they were never intended to. Opioids are meant to be taken for a short time for pain, not to cope with stress or emotional pain or, in the case of teens and young adults, as a social activity.

Addiction to prescription drugs can sometimes be hard to identify because it does not follow any of the stereotypes we mentioned earlier. It can impact men and women, young adults or seniors and people of all socioeconomic backgrounds. While teens and young adults are the most likely to become addicted to prescription drugs, there is evidence that older adults are increasingly at risk for prescription drug misuse because they typically take more medication than younger adults and they also tend to consume alcohol without thinking how it may impact the effectiveness and side effects of the medication in their bodies.

Myth No. 6: Only “Hard” Drugs Are Addictive.

Truth: More Recreational Drugs, Like Marijuana, Can Be Just as Addictive.

Another drug addiction misconception is that only “hard" drugs are addictive. Drugs classified as “hard” are not more addictive than other drugs, such as cannabis. Marijuana is another substance that individuals can develop an addiction to, even if used recreationally. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 3 in 10 people who use cannabis have a cannabis use disorder, and those who start using the substance as youths are more likely to develop an addiction.

Cannabis contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is a chemical component that affects your brain and central nervous system. THC stimulates dopamine and has side effects that help most people feel relaxed and pleasured, but using it too much and becoming reliant on or addicted to it can lead to more severe consequences, such as developing psychosis or respiratory issues.

Besides making you feel happy, cannabis can hinder your motor skills, twist your sense of time, lower your attention span and alter your memory while under the influence, making it challenging to function normally. Additionally, cannabis can affect individuals differently. Some people could use it and feel more anxious, afraid, paranoid or depressed.

If you or a loved one has tried quitting using marijuana but returned to using it or you've begun noticing how it affects your everyday life negatively, it may be time to get help. Consider finding a marijuana detox program to help you or your loved one overcome the addiction and subsequent withdrawal symptoms.

Myth No. 7: Addiction Is a Young Person's Disease.

Truth: Anyone Can Become Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol.

Teenagers and young adults do have the highest rates of substance use and addiction. In fact, in 2015, it was estimated that nearly 5% of adolescents aged 12 to 17 had a substance use disorder. However, statistics like this cover up the fact that addiction does not know age boundaries. Nearly 14% of senior admissions to an emergency room are related to a drug or alcohol problem, and almost 13% of women over the age of 18 used illicit drugs in the last year.

You can't judge a person's "risk" for addiction by their age. If you or a loved one — regardless of age — are struggling with substance use, it is important to get help as soon as possible. There are a variety of recovery programs available, so you'll want to consult with your doctor or a mental health professional to determine the best option for your situation.

Myth No. 8: Once Addicted, Always Addicted.

Truth: Recovery Is a Journey, but Your Journey Is Not Defined by Addiction.

While addiction is considered a "chronic" condition, which means that it is always present in the body and the brain, it can be treated and managed like many other chronic conditions. Today's treatments for substance abuse and addiction are designed to treat the areas in the brain that have become damaged by repeated use and misuse. Treatments also teach individuals healthy coping strategies for living life and confronting some of the thought patterns and situations that may have led to addiction in the first place.

People struggling with addiction are vulnerable to relapse, but relapse does not indicate that treatment has failed. Treatment of substance use disorders and addiction involves changes in thought patterns and behaviors that have been cultivated over time. Therefore, it will take time to replace them with newer, healthier thoughts and behaviors. When an individual does relapse, it may be in response to being confronted with some of the situations that led to their desire to use drugs or alcohol. Or, it may indicate that some adjustments to their treatment program are required.

Myth No. 9: Substance Use Programs Don't Really Work.

Truth: Substance Use Programs Are a Critical Component of Overcoming the Day-to-Day Grip of Addiction.

Relapse rates for people with substance addiction are similar to those of other chronic medical conditions. When people hear this, they are often discouraged and immediately deem all treatment programs a failure. The problem with that is that they are not looking at the bigger picture. Because addiction to drugs or alcohol is a chronic condition — just like hypertension, asthma or diabetes — there are things a person will need to do every day for the rest of their lives to maintain their progress in overcoming the daily grip addiction had on their lives.

Research has shown that people who continue treatment for a drug addiction can stop using drugs and then make many positive changes in their lives, such as obtaining and maintaining employment, restoring family ties and avoiding criminal activity. When a person decides to stop treatment altogether or assumes they are "cured," they often find that they relapse. This does not mean that their previous treatment was not effective or that they are beyond help. It simply means that they need to consult with their doctor or a mental health professional to determine what treatment they need to resume or, if they were still active in a treatment program, what may need to be modified to make their ongoing treatment more effective.

Myth No. 10: Talk Therapy Is Enough to Overcome Addiction.

Truth: Everyone Is Different and Will Require a Different Treatment Plan.

When it comes to treatment for addiction to alcohol or drugs, there's no "one-size-fits-all" plan. For some people, talk therapy may be beneficial in working through the underlying issues that led a person to substance use. For other people, anti-addiction medications may also help overcome addiction, particularly in the earlier stages of treatment when withdrawal symptoms are the most prevalent. Some people become concerned at the idea of taking medication to overcome addiction to drugs, however, there are many highly effective and safe anti-addiction medications available and being used in treatment with great success.

Myth No. 11: Recovery Programs Are Full of People Ready to Embarrass You, Yell at You and Deprive You of All Comforts.

Truth: Recovery Programs Are Designed to Help People, Not Make Them Feel Worse.

If you're struggling with an alcohol or drug addiction, the last thing you need is someone yelling at you or calling you out in front of other people. Yes, you need people who will be honest with you. Yes, you need to be challenged and encouraged. Yes, you may have some tough days and weeks ahead. But a good treatment program is designed to walk beside you and teach you how to reclaim your life in a compassionate, non-threatening atmosphere.

How to Overcome Common Misconceptions

It is not always easy, but these misconceptions can be overcome. What people don't realize is how unique every addiction story is. Addiction is a complicated disease, but at the root of it all, those who struggle with addiction are still human beings who wish for a new start. Here are some things you can do to start the road to recovery:

  • Listen to a success story. Reach out to someone who has overcome addiction and have them share their story. Knowing that someone else has been successful can be inspiring.
  • Join a therapy group. Community makes a huge impact in the life of someone recovering from drugs or alcohol, as they have others to hold them accountable for their actions.
  • Attend counseling sessions. Individual counseling can help re-train negative thinking into positive thoughts. Affirmations are a huge motivator for success in recovery. Counseling can also help discover and target the root of why the addiction started in the first place.
  • Consider admission to a treatment center. Treatment or rehabilitation centers contain several programs, including individual and group therapy, to assist in maintaining sobriety. Learn accountability and life skills to apply to your regular life following the program.

If you have a loved one who struggles with addiction:

  • Start a conversation. A surprise intervention is not the answer if you have a loved one going through an addiction. Instead, sitting down with them and sharing your concerns can be a helpful starting point.
  • Speak positive affirmations. As your loved one works through recovery, continuously speak positively around them. They will likely learn mantras and other positive phrases in counseling — the more, the merrier. Hearing that they are loved can significantly encourage them to keep going.
  • Help them understand they are not alone. Along with the positive phrases, make sure they know they are fully supported in this journey. Addiction recovery is challenging and can be full of many ups and downs, but you will be there for them through it all.

How to Get Help for Addiction

Tackling addiction on your own can feel overwhelming. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there are resources to help. Finding a substance use treatment center is the first step toward beginning your sobriety journey. Look for a place with trained staff, comfortable amenities, privacy assurances and ethical treatments.

For compassionate help with alcohol or drug addiction, look to Diamond House Detox. We are an addiction treatment center that helps individuals overcome addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. We use evidence-based treatment options and ongoing support to help you achieve your rehabilitation goals.

Diamond House Detox has multiple treatment options to help you work through addiction:

  • Residential treatment: With our residential treatment services, you can start your sobriety in our 30-day Residential Stabilization Program. You will stay in the Diamond House Detox center while detoxing, attending therapy and working through addiction.
  • Outpatient services: An outpatient treatment program is ideal for those with busy schedules who prefer to continue their routine. You can continue going to work and school while attending treatment.
  • Therapy: We have multiple therapy services for co-occurring disorders and clients with different backgrounds. Our clinically trained therapists will help you work through your mindset and other challenges with drug addiction. We also help you form healthy coping mechanisms to promote long-term success.

Why Choose Diamond House Detox?

Debunking drug abuse myths and destigmatizing drug abuse facts is crucial to ensuring individuals with a substance abuse disorder can receive the help they need to recover. At Diamond House Detox, we value providing a safe and comfortable environment for people looking to overcome their substance use disorder. Our treatment center allows clients to have privacy while they undergo addiction treatment, providing private rooms for clients to return to after therapy and treatment sessions. Our facility also provides more intimate settings so clients feel comfortable forming genuine connections with staff.

At Diamond House Detox, we want to help you feel confident about your recovery journey. Our highly qualified medical professionals work closely with you to develop personalized treatment plans to address your specific concerns and needs. We consider every client's personal and medical history to create plans, and we adapt these strategies to ensure individuals receive the guidance and support they need.

Let Diamond Detox House Help You Overcome Your Addiction

Located in Northern California, Diamond House Detox provides a clean, safe and comfortable environment for individuals recovering from addiction. If you or a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, we cannot stress enough the importance of finding a place for them to begin their treatment and recovery. For more information about the programs at Diamond House Detox, call (800) 205-6107 or contact us online today.

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Content medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet, PMHNP-BC, on October 12, 2022.




Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Diamond House Detox
Vicky is a board certified Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. She began her nursing career in healthcare by working in the intensive care unit, and then an inpatient psychiatric hospital. After realizing the mental health needs of both the patients and the families she served, she became a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Throughout her experience working with clients, she has developed a passion for those with dual diagnoses and specializes in helping individuals recognize the issues driving their substance use. This recognition has been crucial to the individual’s success in treatment. Vicky opened Diamond House Detox so that she can address these issues early on in a therapeutic environment to allow clients to transition to the next level in their recovery.
Vicky Magobet
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