Psychiatrist and addiction expert Akikur Mohammad, M.D. is the medical director for Inspire Malibu in Los Angeles. His recent book The Anatomy of Addiction: What Science and Research Tell Us About the True Causes, Best Preventive Techniques, and Most Successful Treatments includes a chapter on the top myths about addiction.
As found on InspireMalibu.com (link no longer active, 6/22/22), Mohammad’s 10 top myths about addiction are presented below with excerpts I’ve taken from his explanations:
1. Addiction is a Problem of Willpower and Abstinence, Which is Why Medications Don’t Work. Possibly the “biggest addiction myth…Essentially all major medical organizations around the world agree that addiction is a disease of the brain and should be treated like any other disease.”
2. Addicts Should Be Punished for Using Drugs and Drinking Too Much Because in the End, They Know Better. “Going back to Myth #1, it’s not a crime to have a disease and we shouldn’t punish addicts for using drugs just as we shouldn’t punish people for using an inhaler or insulin.”
3. Alcohol is Different from Other Drugs Because it’s Easier to Control and You’re Less Likely to Become Addicted to It. “While it may not be as addictive as other drugs such as heroin or opioids, it is still a very addictive substance and causes more deaths each year than all other drugs. It can also be the most difficult to treat because it acts on multiple brain receptors instead of just one or two, like most other drugs.”
4. Virtually Everyone Who Uses Meth or Crack Will Become Addicts. “Most meth or crack users never become addicts and they stop using before it becomes a problem because they simply don’t like it…Because users snort, smoke or inject these drugs, they can be highly addictive, but that’s not the same thing as saying all users will become addicted.”
5. People Addicted to One Drug Are Addicted to All of Them. “…(F)or most, the drug of choice that they become addicted to corresponds to their individual brain chemistry. Some users will smoke pot and use alcohol at the same time while another person will only smoke pot but not like the effects of drinking alcohol, and vice versa.”
6. Prescription Pills are Safer Than Illegal Street Drugs Because They’ve Been Prescribed by a Doctor. “Not only is this a myth but it’s a dangerous one…The problem begins when people misuse those prescriptions and take more than they were prescribed or continue taking them after the prescription runs out. Some will even go ‘doctor shopping’ to get multiple prescriptions.”
7. Today’s Marijuana is Extremely Powerful and a Leading Cause of Drug Overdose. “It’s true that today’s marijuana is more powerful than it was years ago, but that’s the only part of this myth that’s true…Cannabinoid receptors are not located in the brainstem, which controls breathing; so lethal overdoses are not possible like with other drugs that are affected by respiration.”
8. Heroin is Mainly a Ghetto Drug. “Even if heroin was once confined to the backstreets, today it has hit mainstream America and is being used by those from all walks of life. What began as a prescription pill epidemic has become a heroin epidemic.”
9. Alcoholics and Addicts Have to Hit Rock Bottom Before They Can Be Treated Effectively. “Rock Bottom may be a motivator for some people to finally get help, but the fact remains that early intervention is not only more successful at treating addiction, but it alleviates a lot of the pain and damage done from addiction by treating the problem early.”
10. Treating Addiction with Medications Won’t Work Because You’re Just Substituting One Drug for Another. “Addiction causes the reward pathways in the brain to stop functioning properly because of over-stimulation. From a medical perspective, the best way to treat this is to stop the over-stimulation so the brain can return to normal. The addictive behavior and cravings can be halted through the use of pharmaceutical medications that are proven to be effective.”
Another of the myths about addiction that Mohammad has dispelled elsewhere: Relapse leads to never getting better. Improvement is often actually possible when drug use eventually stops.