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: Marijuana is ‘natural’ so it cannot be harmful or addictive.
Despite media attention often given to substances such as ‘crack’ cocaine, crystal meth and heroin, marijuana (cannabis) remains the most common drug of choice amongst those seeking treatment for their addiction. At the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre, more than 80% of youth clients report using cannabis on an at least a weekly basis – and many do so daily (well more than any other substance, including alcohol). Research also demonstrates that there are significant physical and mental health consequences that can result from regular marijuana use. As such, it is important to acknowledge that marijuana use does pose serious risks.
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.
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.
Find out more:
Mike Beauchesne, VP Clinical Services
These youth need our help and really do need support, understanding and care.