Raise your hand if you, or someone you know, has ever suffered from alcohol addiction. Inevitably, the vast majority of hands rise, some without hesitation, others with a tentativeness that clearly suggests shame and embarrassment. Despite the compelling evidence of its widespread existence, many myths still surround the issue of addiction. Unfortunately, these myths help perpetuate discrimination, stereotypes and misinformation, which are then applied to public health policy decisions and improperly ‘inform’ our understanding of addiction and those who suffer from the condition.
In addition to providing residential and aftercare treatment to Ontario youth struggling with addiction and mental health issues, the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre advocates for those who suffer from this costly and tragic health issue. In so doing, the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre is tasked with helping educate and inform others about the nature of drug and alcohol addiction and, in the process, dispel some of the myths that continue to surround this public health issue. The following being some notable examples:
MYTH: Addiction and mental health issues are distinct, and should be treated as such.
While drug and alcohol addiction and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can occur in isolation, they are often closely linked. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), approximately 20% of people with a mental health issue have a co-occurring substance abuse problem and the majority of individuals seeking treatment for substance abuse have at least one co-occurring mental health challenge. Substance abuse can trigger or exacerbate mental health issues (e.g., psychosis) and addiction can arise as a maladaptive coping strategy for untreated mental health conditions (e.g., self-medication). It is for this reason that the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre offers an integrated and comprehensive treatment approach.
MYTH: Reaching “rock bottom” is a prerequisite for treatment success.
When does someone know they have reached rock bottom? Ultimately, this status is unpredictable, can vary drastically from one person to the next and, tragically, ‘rock bottom’ for some could mean death. Therefore, we should not wait to intervene as there are always things that clients and/or family members can do to help reduce the experienced harms, improve quality of life and facilitate considerations for recovery (however that is personally defined).
MYTH: Addiction is a choice.
While we all make decisions in our lives, some healthy and some less so (consider nutrition and exercise – or lack thereof), nobody chooses to become addicted. Rather, drug addiction is often about fulfilling an unmet need and wanting to feel ‘normal’ (e.g., to increase pleasure and/or reduce emotional or physical pain). Ultimately, reasons for use will vary and may change over time, but nobody sets out to be ‘addicted’ and to experience all the pain and suffering that often accompanies this health issue.
Dispelling these myths and those like them will go a long way in helping us better understand addiction, foster political, treatment and health policy decisions that are empirically-supported. and ultimately allow us to be of greater assistance to those individuals and families who suffer as a result.