Raise your hand if you, or someone you know, has ever suffered from drug or 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: For those with concurrent disorders, successfully treating the mental health issue will eliminate the addiction (and vice versa).
If it were only that easy. While it is true that improvements in mental health status can result in a positive decrease in substance using behaviour, this is often not the case. In fact, sometimes related problems could appear to worsen (at least in the short term). For example, it is not unusual for someone to feel more depressed or anxious as their substance use decreases because their use was an effective coping strategy for those issues. Ultimately, all aspects of concurrent disorders should be addressed during treatment.
MYTH: Drugs are addictive and they are the ‘cause’ of the problem.
Most people who use drugs do NOT become addicted. In the same way that the vast majority of people who eat, gamble and have sex do so in moderation without becoming addicted to these activities. But SOME do. Therefore, the focus should really be on the person and his/her needs and less on specific drugs and their properties and effects.
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.
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