For the media

Drug and alcohol myths, debunked

By The Health News Team | March 20, 2024
Woman drinking whiskey at a bar

Unless you work in the substance use disorder treatment field or have supported a loved one through their recovery journey, chances are you’ve received misinformation about drugs and alcohol at some point. Misinformation can create stigmatizing preconceived notions about substance use disorders and can be potentially dangerous if you’re trying to support someone without a medical professional’s help.

Lindsay Damoose, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Sharp HealthCare, helps debunk six common myths about alcohol and substance use.

I don’t have an addiction because I don’t drink or use substances every day or have major consequences.

Fact: While some people with severe substance use disorders demonstrate overt behaviors, such as drinking or using substances daily or struggling with financial or legal problems, many fly under the radar. Some may hide their use out of shame or a desire to continue to use without scrutiny. Others may not have experienced difficulties at work so far, but they may be neglecting important activities to continue using.

For others, they may experience daily cravings, which is an indication of a substance use disorder. Alcohol and substance use is problematic when it affects a person’s relational, occupational or mental functioning. It’s important to look for any changes in a person’s behavior and identify if this is due to their alcohol or substance use.

I can't get addicted to my prescription drugs.

Fact: Just because a doctor prescribes medication doesn't mean it's harmless. The reality is that prescription drugs, such as opiates and benzodiazepines, are highly addictive and can cause bigger problems than what they were initially prescribed to treat.

It's important to use these medications with caution, ask if there are any alternatives to taking them, and use them only as prescribed. People taking these medications should also pay attention to whether they are developing a tolerance or having an increased desire for a higher dosage than what's prescribed and speak to their doctor about a safe titration (slowly adjusting the dose over a period of time) plan.

For people with alcohol use disorder, sometimes referred to as alcoholism, it’s vital to consult with a medical professional to reduce life-threatening withdrawal effects that can occur when you stop drinking.

Fentanyl can be absorbed through your skin, which can lead to overdose.

Fact: While there are prescription fentanyl patches meant to be absorbed through the skin, accidentally coming into contact with fentanyl powder residue through a door handle or other surface is not known to be necessarily toxic. Overdose or fatality through this route of contact is highly improbable. Also, situations involving large amounts of fentanyl being put into the air, such as through terrorist attacks or law enforcement raids, are very rare occurrences.

However, it is important to not touch the eyes, mouth or nose after touching any surface possibly contaminated with fentanyl. Immediately wash hands and other affected skin with soap and water after a potential exposure.

It’s OK for me to give up my alcohol use and smoke marijuana instead.

Fact: In recovery programs, health professionals address a phenomenon called “cross-addiction,” which refers to how easy it is to switch from one addictive behavior to another. People early in sobriety can find that while they are “dry” from their substance of choice, they are demonstrating an increase in other impulsive behaviors such as spending money, eating or gambling.

Regardless of whether total abstinence is the goal, it’s important to have awareness about why we are continuously stuck in the cycle of engaging in maladaptive coping behaviors. What are these behaviors covering up, and what consequences are they causing?

Marijuana addiction isn't real.

Fact: Cannabis, commonly known as marijuana, is a mind-altering substance and creates changes in the brain with ongoing use. Habitual cannabis use can change the way your body adapts to sleep, experiences stress and tolerates pain.

While you can’t overdose on marijuana, the body can build up a tolerance to it and react when you stop using it. Common withdrawal symptoms are increased irritability, anxiety, sleeplessness, restlessness and headaches. Depending on the severity and duration of a person’s use, these withdrawal symptoms typically subside within a month.

All it takes to stop being addicted to alcohol and drugs is willpower.

Fact: While it certainly takes a lot of willpower to quit alcohol and substance use, it takes more than determination to maintain sobriety. Successful sobriety comes from intensive treatment, a network of sober support persons, regular recovery meeting attendance and ongoing self-work. It can also require the use of special medications to keep someone from relapsing.

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol or drug use, Sharp McDonald Center offers treatment options that can help.

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