Unraveling Myths About Addiction

By The Fix staff 10/25/17

Instead of recognizing the ways that substance use is affecting their lives, many people rationalize and justify their behavior, saying things like "I don’t do it every day" or "it’s just pot."

Recovery Unplugged's Paul Pellinger with Steven Tyler of Aerosmith
“We make recovery more of a payoff than getting high, rather than just focusing on fear.” via Recovery Unplugged.

When you think of an addict, what do you picture? Most people envision someone who is homeless and disheveled, having hit the proverbial rock-bottom. Few people think of the dad who shows up buzzed to his son’s soccer game, or the supervisor who takes a hit before entering the board room. Yet those functioning addicts are the vast majority of people struggling with substance abuse.

“One of the reasons that the public and addicts themselves rationalize not getting help is because they don’t believe they’re that bad,” says Paul Pellinger, the chief strategy officer of Recovery Unplugged, a music-based rehabilitation and recovery center. “When I used to think of what an addict was, I thought of someone with track marks on the street, but that really makes up only three to five percent of the addicts and alcoholics in the world.”

The stereotype of what and who an addict is is one of the myths around addiction that Pellinger and the other leaders at Recovery Unplugged hope to cut through in order to help more people live happy, fulfilled lives in sobriety.

Addiction is a degenerative disease with early, middle and late stages, Pellinger says. While someone with late-stage addiction might fit the stereotype, many people with early- and middle-stage addictions can function even while dealing with the disease. Too often people think that because they’re functioning they don’t need to get help.

“This is the only disease that tells you you don’t have one,” Pellinger says. “That’s because they don’t have those late stage consequences yet.”

Instead of recognizing the ways that substance use is affecting their lives, many people rationalize and justify their behavior, saying things like I don’t do it every day, It’s just pot, or They’re only prescription pills. I’m not shooting heroin.

“Unfortunately that keeps them sick and keeps the family and loved ones around them sick,” Pellinger says.

Image via Recovery Unplugged.

In order for people to get help early on there needs to be more education about the early stages of addiction.

“Addiction has little to do with what you use, how much you use or how often you use,” Pellinger says. Instead, it’s important to look at what the consequences of use are. “That’s a major component of addiction.”

Pellinger mentions a client who uses cocaine only a few times a year. However, each time he uses, he loses money, lies to his wife and engages in other risky behavior.

“That might be early- to mid-stage addiction, but there are severe consequences for him and his family,” Pellinger says. Despite the fact that he doesn’t use all the time, this client could benefit from treatment.

Another client smokes marijuana every day. While he insists that it’s “just pot,” the substance use has real implications in his life.

“He can work and socialize, but he’s emotionally immature, moody and has low motivation, which is why he’s still stuck in a dead-end job,” Pellinger explains.

Rather than focusing on the type of substance he is using, Pellinger encouraged this client to look at how his use was affecting his life.

“We get too focused on comparing drugs,” he explains.

Many people, especially in 12-step fellowships, believe that addiction is defined in part by powerlessness. Pellinger agrees, with a caveat.

“If there’s somebody in recovery, they’re not powerless, because they have a choice whether to use or not,” he says. “But once they ingest [the substance] that’s when the powerlessness kicks in in terms of not being able to utilize consequential thinking.”

Traditional recovery programs rely on consequences to deter someone from using again, showing them the negative implications that using will have. Pellinger says that this approach fails so often because addicts already know there will be consequences for their actions, but the disease keeps them from caring. This approach that focuses so much on the drugs is not particularly useful.

“If I told you: no, don’t think about elephants, your mind automatically does just that,” Pellinger says. “Traditional treatment approaches people that way.”

At Recovery Unplugged clinicians use music and lyrics to help people focus on recovery. Music is associated with pleasure receptors in the brain, so the whole experience has a positive focus rather than a negative one.

“We make recovery more of a payoff than getting high, rather than just focusing on fear,” Pellinger says.

Pellinger says that music can help people make the change in their soul that is needed for longterm success in recovery.

“It’s about using the music as a way to live not only a clean, but also a happy, joyous, and free life,” he says.

Recovery Unplugged is a music-based rehabilitation and recovery center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Austin, Texas. Get more information at www.recoveryunplugged.com or connect on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

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