Treatment Myths

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Myths are untrue theories passed down from person to person until they become part of common folklore.

A treatment myth is a widely held, but mostly false, idea about how a service is delivered and about anything such as:

  • Entrance requirements
  • How the detox will affect you
  • How the service is running
  • The contradictions to treatment
  • Mandatory benefits for patients

Myths exist in all walks of life and can affect whether or not a decision is made to do something.

Take, for instance, the common myth - sugar makes kids hyper. Studies have confirmed that sugar does not cause hyperactivity in children. The results showed no difference if they're given sugar-fuelled or non-sugar food diets.

The above myth may be hard to believe

The Myth may have become a belief. To deconstruct a myth may be a difficult process.

In the world of addiction & recovery treatment, many myths have arisen over the years. They may be relevant or redundant, i.e. passed on from the experiences of the last generation with therapy and therefore not applicable.

The article will observe some of these Treatment Myths.

List of Treatment Myths

Entrance Requirements

You need to hit rock bottom

This is a myth and subjective (i.e., defining a person's rock bottom) as each individual will have had numerous and varied life experiences before feeling ready to access treatment.

Many different experiences may lead to a feeling of rock bottom to do with:

  • Consumption levels length and rates of usage
  • The realisation that the 'substance' is in control
  • Repeating behaviours that cause harm to self/others
  • Family issues
  • Job losses
  • Financial Issues
  • Poor physical health
  • Seeking treatment for mental health problems

Whatever the event that leads to rock bottom, the use of substances does not require this to happen before treatment can be successful.

Upon entering treatment, your therapists will explain the issues that may arise if drinking/drug use continues, and hopefully, this realisation will serve as a deterrent to future relapse.

Treatment is only for daily drinkers, not binge drinkers

This is a myth, as is the theory that an alcoholic is a daily drinker.

An alcoholic can also be a binge drinker as thoughts of the next drink consume the mind, and the level of destruction that lies in the wake of the last binge can be catastrophic to self and others.

In some cases, daily drinkers' lives are somewhat less chaotic as the alcohol consumed is used to 'top up' the drinker.

If the consumer, either a daily drinker or binge drinker, feels they have a problem, they have a problem. Nobody can class them as an alcoholic or problem drinker.

A professional may indicate the units of alcohol are higher than the recommended weekly/daily dose.

However, it is up to the person to admit they have a problem trying to stop and stay stopped, and they want to seek help.

How Detox Will Affect You

Nobody can help you if you use amphetamine, cocaine or legal highs

Continuing on the principle of substance use is subjective.

It again falls to the user of psychoactive stimulants to conclude that their drug use is a problem, and by their omission, they need help to combat it.

Rehab centres are designed to support those who use any drug problematically. If they are drug-specific, they will state this on their website.

This may be the case for rapid detox centres.

However, rehabs such as Abbeycare have a specialised team of doctors with numerous years of experience in Detox of the full range of drugs. (See Abbeycare's Detox article).

If detox is not required, 121 support and group work focusing on the nature of substance use and the root causes will be delivered, with long term abstinence recovery being the goal for all participants regardless of designation.

How the Service is Running

Social Work will remove your children

All rehabs have a Confidentiality Policy where confidentiality will only be broken if:

  • A patient indicates they may harm themselves
  • A patient indicates they may harm another
  • Or a patient indicates a child is being harmed or at risk of being hurt.

In any of the three cases, the appropriate procedures will be followed. In the third case, emergency services (such as Social Work Services, or in some cases, Police services) may be called.

In general, those attending rehab do not require Social Work intervention for their children aged under 16 if an appropriate adult delivers care at home such as mum, dad, grandparent etc.

Social Work services are supportive and do not want to separate children from parents. They are required if a child is in danger of abuse or to provide support to the parent.

The staff are tyrants

Any staff member in rehab will have a chuckle reading this statement. This is known as a redundant statement, i.e. it may have been true in the past but is not true now.

Each rehab facility is governed by regulatory bodies designed to monitor the procedures to ensure patient safety. One of the areas that are observed is staffing.

Staff have to complete a mandatory battery of training which is stringently monitored by the management team and regulatory bodies such as the Care Inspectorate Scotland and the Care Quality Commission England.

Patients have access to a Complaints Procedure, and if they feel a staff member is not working to support them, they can take their concerns to the senior management team.

The Contradictions to Treatment

It's too expensive

Private Residential Rehab does occur at a cost. This is accurate. However, private medical care can cover the costs.

Statutory services, in some cases, can support patients into rehab. If Drug/Alcohol Recovery Services can help those wanting to access residential rehab, the client is recommended to attend all appointments set by the team. 

However, some local authorities do not have the funds to support this transition.

That rehab is available to all

Statutory Services - This is untrue as the UK still operates under a postcode lottery system. The level of support and treatment those with substance use disorders receive depends on their postcode.

Private Rehab – This is untrue as some private rehabs cannot enter new participants suffering from complex health conditions that require 24-hour medical supervision during detox.

Even though they may be equipped with a specialist medical team, most rehabs are not prepared for medical emergencies.

Mandatory Benefits to Patients

It's a silver bullet that can fix anyone

Rehab works if you work it. The programme on offer will teach the client how to become abstinent from alcohol and drugs and stay abstinent. (See Abbeycare Alcohol Rehab, Drug Rehab).

Most rehabs have an Aftercare programme. If followed, the risk of relapse is significantly reduced. (see Abbeycare Aftercare article).

Rehab is not a silver bullet. Unfortunately, relapse is a real issue and can occur due to a variety of reasons.

You can reward yourself with a night off when you leave rehab

This myth is potentially one of the most dangerous myths for a person new to recovery. Misinformed people misinforming others that the chemical dependency has been broken and a night off is okay can lead to relapse.

The participant may end up back to square one if this faulty and untrue belief is not dissected.

The substance user may immediate begin to crave alcohol and drugs, and all their hard work in rehab may disappear.

In all cases, the participant is encouraged not to return to the doses they consumed before rehab.

Some opinions in addiction/recovery

It's a moral problem, and "Just Say No"!

These two statements have been bracketed together to describe a myth that the user of substances should "Just Say No", and then they will be okay.

If "Just Say No" works, the need for rehabs and alcohol/drug services worldwide would be significantly reduced.

Unfortunately, addiction to alcohol and drugs is more complicated than "Just Say No". Most users dependant on substances will explain they never meant to become addicted. It just seemed to happen. After it happened, they felt trapped.

Chemical dependency affects the body and mind, the mind says to use more, and the body submits and ingests more. This is a never-ending pattern.

To imply a person is somewhat diminished in stature by using alcohol and drugs is a stigmatising statement and unhelpful.

An instructive statement that is more helpful may be, "I am not a bad person trying to become good. I am a sick person trying to get better."

To categorise a person as having low morals due to their alcohol or drug use is inaccurate, and this old style of thinking is inappropriate, therefore, a myth.

People can be recovered

This statement has drawn lots of debate over the past few decades as different schools of thought believe the statement means different things.

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous talks about being recovered from a hopeless state of mind and body.

This statement illustrates the alcoholic's condition before sobriety.

In sobriety, the alcoholic is encouraged to focus on maintaining their recovery through talking therapy and the 12 Step Programme.

Those previously chemically addicted to alcohol can regress and relapse.

If this occurs, they will need to go through the detox and early recovery cycle all over again.

The goal is to stay in recovery for the long term without relapse.

Final Thoughts

Many treatment myths are not covered in this article as the generation to generation of substance users create their lingo or misconceived ideas of residential rehab and what happens within them.

What may have been the experience for one certainly does not exist for all.

Addiction/recovery is subjective. Therefore, you have a problem with substances when you say you have a problem and you are in recovery when you say you are in recovery.

In the realm of addiction/recovery, no one is entitled to label the substance user. What was once perceived as a moral dilemma or criminal justice issue is now being encouraged to be viewed through the Public Health window.

Substance Use Disorders are now classed as a Public Health problem.

What myths will the area of addiction/recovery grow as a Whole Population Approach is now favoured in the UK?

And for the first time in UK history, we move away from a punitive approach to substance use and a more supportive one.


Last Updated: June 21, 2021

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.