8 Myths About Substance Abuse That May Not Be Myths at All
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8 Myths About Substance Abuse That May Not Be Myths at All


8 myths about substance abuse

This post was originally published on January 23, 2015.

While CNN’s story 8 Myths About Substance Abuse seems a bit more reminiscent of a DARE presentation for 11-year-olds than a slideshow for adult readers of a mainstream media outlet, they do make some solid points. Still, most of those points are fairly obvious so I think they’d be hard pressed to find a large percentage of folks who need to be told they’re not true. And does sending out an alarmist rally on nearly everything to do with drugs help hammer home the important points in here? I’m not so sure about that. So let’s take a look at these myths.

Myth #1: It Can’t Hurt To Try a Drug Just Once

Of course there’s a bit of truth to this. Yes, first-time drug users can die from an overdose on heroin or try to jump off a building because they think they’re Superman in a meth-induced psychotic break. But when I try to count the number of people I know who tried a drug once or twice and those I know who suffered repercussions from that, I come up with exactly nada.

Myth #2: Marijuana Is a Safe Drug, Especially if You Only Use it Occasionally 

This one’s tricky. I know plenty of 420 folks who swear pot is harmless despite lots of scientific evidence which proves it can lead to not only to brain frying (note: not a clinical term) but also illnesses like schizophrenia and anxiety disorders as well as respiratory problems and addiction. But the fact is, people can have, well, creative definitions for what the word “occasionally” means. Once a year? Three times a week? I call not enough clarity on this one.

Whether it’s problematic or not most likely depends on the person and how predisposed they are to mental illness and addiction. But once not being safe for everyone? I can’t really jump on board here.

Myth #3: Spice Is An Even Safer Alternative

Look, I’m going to give them this one. Spice—whether it’s K2, Black Mamba or Bliss—is scary as fuck, even though it’s turned out that some of the media hoopla about it may have been exaggerated. But are there people out there who don’t realize there are risks associated with smoking this so-called fake weed—or any unregulated “herbs” from the corner dealer?

Myth #4: Stimulants Can Help You Stay Focused At Work Or School

Let me tell you from first-hand experience that this one simply ain’t true. Ask anyone with a legitimate ADD diagnosis who’s been treated with Adderall and they’ll likely confirm that “uppers” like Adderall can help in a way that’s almost impossible to articulate when you need to file important documents and stay focused enough to finish Crime and Punishment. 

True, if you take more than prescribed and snort it—or, say, start smoking meth—there will be major ill effects, including panic attacks and paranoia. The headline I’d therefore propose to CNN would be: “Yes, amphetamines can help you focus but if you’re an addict, it surely won’t be worth it.”

Myth #5: Only Street Drugs Can Harm Your Health or Cause Addiction

Well, um, yes. So if you’ve missed the news that prescription drugs (specifically opiates) is our modern day addiction health crisis, this slideshow is for you.

Myth #6: Substance Abuse Is A Choice—Or A Character Flaw

This one’s pretty spot-on. Once the gnarly cycle of addiction gets going, it’s very hard to stop it, even if you have an iron resolution to do so and are faced with grave consequences like incarceration or death. A great many addicts with the most sincere desire to quit won’t be able to do it alone. Still, there exceptions to everything, including this. Which leads us to…

Myth #7: Substance Abusers Don’t Require Treatment; They Just Need To Try Harder To Quit

I gotta say yes and no on this one. Of course, trying “harder” to quit doesn’t do much. But I know a whole lot of people who got and stay sober through 12-step and never stepped foot in a rehab. And there are those exception people who didn’t do either that I mentioned above.

Myth #8: Treatment Doesn’t Work

It’s true: there are folks who swear that rehabs are useless profit-machines that don’t produce results. But in some cases, treatment is necessary, either because the person’s addiction has gotten bad enough that simply showing up at meetings or making that “I’m going to stop” decision doesn’t work.

CNN also claims here that relapse is a step on the road to recovery. While they are right that a relapse doesn’t necessarily mean treatment has failed, and while it should never discourage someone to stop trying to kick the habit, “slipping” can be fatal. Relapsing on heroin or coke is just as—if not more—dangerous as the first time a person uses. Addiction is progressive, after all.

The Truth

We can thank the folks at CNN for caring enough to dispel myths about substance abuse, but a more in-depth article with statistics and personal stories might work better to educate the general public.

Then again, we are in the list age; compared to what’s out there, this is a winner.

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.