Nancy Reagan taught us all that drugs are bad. D.A.R.E. programs taught us that users are criminals, they are bad people. No one ever bothered to tell us that the vast majority of them were in need of help from a mental health system that largely doesn’t exist.
I’ve seen a lot online lately about drugs. From welfare drug testing to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death to the fact that heroin use is up. I’ve also seen a lot of misconceptions about drug users and addiction. I’d like to clear some of that up.
MYTH: Drug use = addiction
TRUTH: Drugs have an addictive potential
While it’s true that most drugs have the potential for addiction, from cigarettes to heroin, not everyone who uses drugs is an addict or has a problem. Plenty of people imbibe beer or smoke marijuana without it ever becoming a physical or psychological issue.
MYTH: Drug users are stupid
TRUTH: Drug users are just as smart as anyone else, maybe even smarter
There’s no two ways about it, people with higher IQs are more likely to use drugs, undoing the notion that drugs are a fool’s vice. The correlation isn’t completely clear, but experts note that smarter people are often under more pressure to perform and some may also become easily bored and seek the extra stimulation drugs offer.
I’ve also observed that, the smarter you are, the easier it is to become disillusioned or depressed about the world around you. Drugs can be an alluring coping mechanism.
MYTH: Drug users just want to get high
TRUTH: Getting high is a means to an end
While it’s true that the high is the reason people begin taking drugs, it’s really not as simple as that. For many drug users, getting high is a means to an end. Drugs seem like a good way (at least in the beginning) to deal with life’s rigors or one’s own inner demons. It’s a fact that drug use is higher in the mentally ill and those who go through traumatic experiences.
There’s also been a rise in prescription painkiller addiction, which may stem from doctors prescribing them more to help patients with pain. Some people have a higher risk of addiction due to genetics, so even something that might seem harmless at first can turn into a serious problem.
MYTH: Drug users can stop anytime they want
TRUTH: Sobering up has serious health, financial, and social implications
Drug addiction can, sometimes literally, be crippling. And addicts know this. An addict may very well want to clean up and get help, but continues using because it’s the only way to remain functional at work or get through job interviews.
Withdrawal (essentially what “rehab” does) is a MONTHS-long process, and when you have to support yourself or your family, cleaning up just isn’t an option. And even if you manage to get help, rehab (if you can afford it) mostly treats the symptom. Until the root cause is dissected and patched with therapy, there’s a higher chance of relapse. And quality therapy is not something addicts often have access to.
If they do manage to get cleaned up though, the battle still isn’t over. The battle is NEVER over. An addict will be an addict their entire life, even if it’s been 5, 10, or 50 years since they last used.
There can also be social consequences to cleaning up. In order to decrease the chance of a relapse, a person may need to cut ties with close friends and family. If they don’t have a strong social network of sober people to rely on when they take such a step, this can also leave them emotionally vulnerable — which can lead to a relapse.
MYTH: Drug addicts on welfare are moochers
TRUTH: Drug users on welfare are extremely low, and welfare is often the closest thing an addict has to “rehab”
There is a misconception that there are a lot of drug users who use welfare — and that they use welfare money to buy more drugs.
First of all, the number of drug users on welfare is extremely low and screening costs taxpayers far more than the amount saved in denying benefits to the few who do use.
Secondly, welfare is, in a way, the closest thing the government currently has to “drug rehabilitation.”
As I said above, addicts need drugs to function properly. Without their daily fix, survival is practically impossible. For the insanely low amount of drug users who actually use welfare, it could be helping them survive (whether they use welfare for food, shelter, drugs, etc.) as they attempt to rehabilitate or try to hold down a job.
Remember, for an addict, drugs are as physically necessary as food.
MYTH: Panhandling homeless people will just spend their money on alcohol and booze
TRUTH: Drugs become a survival tool on the streets
This one isn’t necessarily a misconception as much as a misunderstanding. Drugs — especially alcohol and cigarettes — can be a survival tactic for homeless people. I once heard someone mention that they couldn’t understand why a homeless person would buy cigarettes or booze before buying food.
Here’s the reason: Food doesn’t last long when you have no way to store or cook it. People with homes take refrigerators, stoves and microwaves for granted. Cigarettes last longer than food and can suppress appetite, which makes the little food one is able to scrounge go a lot farther on a lot less cash.
As for alcohol: Everyone knows that it makes you feel warmer (even though it really does the opposite). That can make sleeping and surviving on the cold streets seem a little less harsh. And, for some, alcohol can also help suppress appetite.
The other thing to keep in mind is that those who are mentally ill (and therefore at a higher propensity for addiction) are also more likely to become homeless. It is hard to survive on the streets when you can’t function properly — making it an awful place to get sober.
MYTH: Addicts are lowlifes and I certainly don’t know any
TRUTH: Addicts are good people, and you most likely know at least one
You might be surprised just how many addicts you know. Most of them hide their addiction — due to shame and social stigma — while they work to support themselves and/or their family.
Right now, in America, there is no easy way for addicts to get cleaned up — especially if they’re on their own or a family breadwinner. Employers will not allow employees to take months off to get cleaned up and there is no real government program (that i know of) that will help support an addict (and their family) while they get sober.
But these people are everywhere. They’re your friends, family, and coworkers. And they’re not bad people.