Drug and alcohol myths, debunked

By The Health News Team | March 21, 2023
Woman drinking whiskey at a bar

We've all heard myths about drugs and alcohol — from friends, peers and even trusted family members. Chances are, they don't realize the information is wrong and potentially dangerous.

In observance of National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week, Lindsay Damoose, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Sharp HealthCare, helps debunk six common myths about drug and alcohol use:

Myth 1: Drinking alcohol before bed can help with sleep issues.

Fact: Alcohol actually can worsen the quality of sleep. While it can sometimes help people fall asleep quickly, alcohol can interfere with sleep cycles and reduce REM sleep. This interference impacts the quality of the deep, restorative sleep your body needs.

Myth 2: 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.

Myth 3: 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.

Myth 4: "Natural" drugs (including cannabis, mushrooms or peyote) are safer than man-made, synthetic drugs.

Fact: While these substances may be natural, they are still mind-altering and can impact brain chemistry. For example, hallucinogens can cause psychosis in persons that don't have a genetic predisposition for these symptoms.

Just because natural drugs grow in the ground does not mean they won't produce consequential side effects. The reality is, we never completely know what's in a drug or how it will affect the user.

Myth 5: Marijuana addiction isn't real.

Fact: Cannabis 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 certainly can build up a tolerance to it and react when you stop using it. Common withdrawal symptoms are sleeplessness, restlessness, headaches and increased irritability.

Myth 6: All it takes to stop being addicted to alcohol and drugs is willpower.

Fact: While it certainly takes a lot of willpower to want to quit, 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.

Addiction often takes some time to develop. So it's important to understand that stability within recovery can take time and ongoing maintenance.

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

For the news media: To talk with Lindsay Damoose about treatment for drug and alcohol addiction for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at erica.carlson@sharp.com.

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