8 Myths About Substance Abuse

  • Man holding head - headache
    Common Misconceptions
    There are many stereotypes about drug abuse and the people who suffer from it. Drug abuse is a disease just like diabetes or cancer—but one that’s far more likely to be misunderstood by those who don’t struggle with it. Here, we dispel eight of the most common misconceptions about abusing illegal, prescription and illicit substances.

  • Relationship problems
    1. It can’t hurt to try a drug just once.
    Some health effects of substance abuse take time to develop. But others can appear the very first time you dabble in drug use. Fatal overdoses can occur to people who have never before used a substance. Even if the drug itself doesn’t harm you, it can affect your decision-making process and your common sense. You might do something you regret while under the influence.

  • Rolling a Joint
    2. Marijuana is a safe drug, especially if you only use it occasionally.
    Many kids and teens—and even adults—have the impression that pot is harmless at best, a “gateway” drug at worst. But studies increasingly show real dangers linked to its use. When you start smoking at a young age, marijuana damages your cognitive and social development, and you stand about a 1 in 6 chance of becoming addicted. Plus, you risk many of the same problems as cigarette smokers, including bronchitis, asthma and emphysema.

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    3. Spice is an even safer alternative.
    Also known as K2, Bliss, Fake Weed, or Black Mamba, Spice comes in small bags of dried herbs and chemicals marketed as smokable incense. Some effects—including paranoia and panic attacks—are similar to those of regular marijuana. Because Spice is newer, scientists are still working to document its other harmful effects, including irregular heartbeat, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and brain damage.

  • Pills poured into a persons hand
    4. Stimulants can help you focus at school or work.
    Some people take “uppers”—from prescription drugs like amphetamines (Adderall and Dexedrine) to illegal drugs like methamphetamine—thinking they’ll earn higher grades or do better on the job. In reality, the opposite is usually true. The initial rush of exhilaration and energy these drugs sometimes provide quickly turns into paranoia, hostility, panic, and the desire to harm yourself or others.

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    5. Only street drugs can harm your health or cause addiction.
    More people die from overdosing on prescription painkillers than from cocaine and heroin combined. Many prescription or over-the-counter drugs can be, and are, used in ways other than improving health. You can get hooked on cough syrup, anti-anxiety medications, stimulants, and others—and doing so poses serious risks to your health.

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    6. Substance abuse is a choice—or a character flaw.
    A person makes the choice to use an addictive substance for the first time, or on occasion. But over time, drugs change the brain in ways that transform substance use from a habit into a disease. Symptoms include changes in mood and memory, altered motor skills, and a shift in motivation so that the thing that matters most is getting the next fix.

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    7. Substance abusers don’t require treatment; they just need to try harder to quit.
    Just as dependence isn’t a choice, quitting isn’t either. Sheer willpower usually isn’t enough to get someone to quit using. The process involves more than just detoxification from the substance involved. After withdrawal, treatment can include counseling, group therapy, and medications. And recovery is a process that can take time and several attempts to return to health and substance-free living.

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    8. Treatment doesn’t work.
    Most people can recover from addiction. Treatment cuts substance abuse an average of 40 to 60%. People in treatment also commit fewer crimes, reduce their risks of HIV and other infectious diseases, and have a better chance of finding jobs. And also contrary to belief, a relapse doesn’t mean treatment has failed. Rather, it’s a step on the way to recovery and means the person needs another round or a new approach.

8 Myths About Substance Abuse

About The Author

  1. Addiction (Alcohol and Substance Abuse): Myths and Facts. Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. http://www.ok.gov/odmhsas/documents/Addiction myths and facts.pdf.
  2. Castaneto MS, Gorelick DA, Desrosiers NA, Hartman RL, Pirard S, Huestis MA. Synthetic cannabinoids: epidemiology, pharmacodynamics, and clinical implications. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2014 Aug 18.
  3. Challenging Marijuana Myths. National Institute on Drug Abuse. http://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/directors-page/messages-director/2013/02/challenging-marijuana-m....
  4. DrugFacts: Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse. http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction.
  5. DrugFacts: Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse. http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction.
  6. Drugs: Shatter the Myths. National Institute on Drug Abuse. http://teens.drugabuse.gov/file/6016/download?token=6OhnNjRL.
  7. Get It Straight: the Facts About Drugs. Drug Enforcement Administration. http://www.justice.gov/dea/pr/multimedia-library/publications/get-it-straight-student.pdf.
  8. What Do People Think They Know About Substance Dependence? World Health Organization.  http://www.who.int/entity/substance_abuse/publications/en/37325-E.pdf?ua=1.
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Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 22
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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