During my schooling for my Masters in Counseling I decided to take a class titled Counseling in Addictive Behaviors. I didn’t realize as I registered for that class how much it would impact my understanding of addiction and how I counsel. My experience growing up in the church was that addiction was a moral failing, not a disease. Meaning, people chose to be addicts. I soon found that this is not true. I will therefore be de-bunking multiple myths about addiction in this blog piece.
Myth: Addiction is a choice, not a genetic disorder that you are born with, like heart disease or diabetes.
Reality: Wrong. The latest research has revealed that 40-60% of an individual’s chance at developing an addiction is genetics alone. The other 40-60% can be attributed to environmental factors, such as growing up with a parent or family member that was an active addict.
What does that mean? It means that half the people struggling with an addiction were born with a genetic predisposition that leaves them vulnerable to becoming addicted to a certain substance. So, let’s say you were born into a stable nuclear family, but your grandparents and great grandparents were alcoholics. As a child, you have all the support and connection you need to mature into a healthy adult and your parents are not addicted to any substance. You still have a 40-60% chance of becoming an addict just because of the genes you were born with.
Now, let’s say your friend has a similar situation but she was born into a family with little to no stability in her nuclear family. Her parents routinely drank and were emotionally and physically abusive because of it. Your friend's chance of becoming an addict almost doubles. So, the age-old argument of nature vs. nurture can finally be answered. It’s both.
Myth: People choose to become addicted to a certain substance.
Reality: Addiction is not a choice; it’s an insidious disease. Nicotine addiction takes more than 5 million lives worldwide per year. Alcohol addiction is right behind killing 3.3 million people worldwide per year. Opioid addiction has cost millions of lives, 2,107 just in the state of Massachusetts alone in 2016. That number has increased dramatically in 2017. Not to mention the countless lives lost to heart disease, diabetes, stroke, due to those struggling with food addiction and an inability to control their diet. The list goes on and sadly the lives lost due to addiction each year is steadily increasing.
These people are suffering in bondage. They are trying desperately to break free from the addiction, but it has them imprisoned.
Myth: Drug rehab is the cure for addiction
Reality: Wrong. Short-term treatments for addiction have staggeringly high recidivism rates. I can’t tell you how many times I have known someone who went into rehab for six-weeks only to relapse as soon as they were released. But, though the medical model has addressed the need for longer term treatment, very few treatment centers exist that meet this need. And the ones that do cost 10’s of thousands of dollars. More than most suffering with addiction can afford.
Rehab is good, but wrap-around support is needed afterwards. Rehab is not a cure, but rather a starting point in treating addiction. This is why our program at Amirah can be two-years long. It doesn’t just address the addiction but the underlying cause of addiction.
This information may seem like there is little hope for someone born with genetic and environmental vulnerabilities to addiction, but that is not the case. Though it’s easy to fall into addiction due to both predispositions, it is never too late to start the healing journey of recovery. For some, this journey is a lot harder and longer. Such is the case with most of our women at Amirah.
It is not a quick fix and it requires lots of love, whole-person care, and years and years of professional therapy re-training your brain. But there is power in knowledge. And the more we know about addiction, the better we are able to treat it.
Bottom line, addiction is a disease and should be treated as such. It is not someone getting high and feeling good. It’s someone who is living in complete bondage to a substance they hate but can’t find the strength to walk away from. They need our prayers and support, not our judgment. Trust me, they judge themselves enough. And support doesn’t mean giving them what you think they want/need. It often means having to set painful and difficult boundaries.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please seek professional help. There is hope.
Book: Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward