5 Misconceptions About Addiction and Recovery

By Beth Leipholtz 07/12/17

Someone who is high-functioning may still go to work, maintain healthy relationships, have their finances in order, and appear to have their life together overall.

upset man drinking with girlfriend in background
Just because someone is young does not mean they cannot have a legitimate problem with drugs and/or alcohol.

When many people hear the word “alcoholism,” they conjure up images of a man staggering down a dark street, drinking from a bottle in a brown paper bag, looking hopeless and lost. In this fictional situation, the man likely has no job, no family, no friends, no money and no home. Because of the disease of alcoholism, he has lost everything.

While this is sometimes how alcoholism does look, it’s not really the norm. This stereotype is dangerous because it allows those struggling with alcoholism to sink deeper into denial if their life does not match up with this image. Unfortunately, this is only one of the misconceptions surrounding addiction and recovery.

Here are a few more:

  1. Young people can’t struggle with addiction. This is so far from the truth, yet many people think that age matters when it comes to addiction. I was guilty of this same thinking when I got sober at age 20. For the first few months of sobriety, I was deep in denial because I was so young. I had convinced myself that if I wasn’t even of legal drinking age, there was no way I could have already developed a problematic relationship with alcohol. But the truth was that my age didn’t matter. Whether I had been 20 or 40 or 60, the reality was that alcohol was negatively impacting my life and that my drinking would likely get worse as time passed. Just because someone is young does not mean they cannot have a legitimate problem with drugs and/or alcohol.
  1. If someone with an addiction really wants to get better, they can simply stop using/drinking. This is simply not the case. Many people in active addiction know they have a problem and they truly do want to get better. But addiction is a disease. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse states, “Like diabetes, cancer and heart disease, addiction is caused by a combination of behavioral, environmental and biological factors. Genetic risk factors account for about half of the likelihood that an individual will develop addiction.” Addiction affects the brain; many drugs cause a release of chemicals associated with pleasure and reward. After having this experience, some people will keep chasing the release of these chemicals, which will eventually require more and more of the substance, creating a vicious cycle. It's more complicated and other factors come into play, but when it comes down to it, finding recovery from addiction isn’t about making a simple choice. It’s about learning to treat and cope with a disease.
  2. If someone still shows up and does what they need to do, then they can’t have a problem with drugs/alcohol. This is false, false, FALSE. In fact, there is a name for this type of addiction: high-functioning. High-functioning addiction is more common than the type of addiction described at the beginning of this post, and it’s dangerous because people can’t always identify it as addiction. Someone who is high-functioning may still go to work, maintain healthy relationships, have their finances in order, and appear to have their life together overall. But this type of person may also go home and take too many pills, or drink a bottle of wine or two, every night. Just because a person has not lost everything of value in their life does not mean they do not have a problem with a substance. Addiction is not black and white that way.
  1. There is only one right way to recover. Though not everyone is guilty of thinking this way, some people do believe there is one ideal way to recover from addiction. But the reality is that everyone is different. I know people who have gotten sober through 12-step programs, without 12-step programs, with religion, without religion, on their own, with treatment, etc. And they’ve all managed to stay sober and create a life they enjoy living. What works for one person will not necessarily work for another, as there is no cut and dry “cure” for addiction. Each individual must find what works best for themselves, and whatever that happens to be is completely acceptable as long as it’s a healthy way to recover.
  1. Recovery is boring and people in recovery don’t know how to have fun. This is probably the biggest fear of people still using or drinking but thinking about getting sober. They are often scared that if they remove alcohol or drugs from their life, they will no longer know how to have fun. While it does take some adjusting, it it completely possible to have a full, enjoyable life without drugs and alcohol. Most people find that they can do many of the same things they did while in active addiction and actually enjoy them more because they are fully present. Recovery allows a person to be wholly invested in an experience rather than be focused on how the drugs and/or alcohol are affecting that experience. The truth is that I’ve had more fun in my four years of sobriety than I ever did while I was drinking because I don’t have to wake up and worry about what I said or did. Today I get to be totally present in every situation.

Unfortunately, these are just a few of the common misconceptions surrounding addiction. Misconceptions like these are part of the reason why it is important to talk about addiction and to continue to educate the public about the disease. A vital part of breaking the stigma around addiction is using your voice to discuss it and make it known what is fact and what is fiction. Until people learn more about what addiction looks like and how it affects a person, misconceptions will continue to build and can be harmful to those in active addiction.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.