Certain myths and misconceptions like needing to drink at least eight glasses of water every day or humans using only 10% of their brain are common but mostly harmless. When it comes to myths that affect people’s lives and state of mind, it’s important to challenge our preconceived notions and expand our understanding.
That’s exactly the case with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), too. There are plenty of myths that we firmly believe regarding this chronic disease. Unfortunately, these myths can play a critical role in our understanding of Addiction Treatment and Recovery. Often, it becomes a challenge to recognize and treat the condition with less stigmatization and more empathy.
If you have a loved one battling this disease, breaking down the myths about alcohol addiction is an important first step to help support them during recovery.
The Stigma around Alcohol Use Disorder
From HIV to mental illness — stigma tends to be associated with various health conditions. Moreover, stigma often prevents people from seeking help, getting treatment, or making progress with recovery. Among these health conditions, Alcohol Use Disorder is also severely stigmatized, largely because of the myths surrounding the disease.
When you think about alcohol addiction, violent outbursts, domestic abuse, and homelessness may be the first things that come to mind. The truth is, these stereotypes are not the norm for everyone who struggles with Alcohol Use Disorder.
The disease has a broad spectrum of severity, so there may be people who manage to live a seemingly normal life while still secretly battling alcohol addiction. They may be loving parents, considerate spouses, top performers at work, dedicated volunteers, and so on.
But since people tend to fixate on the most severe and visible outcomes of the disease, there’s an extensive negative stigma around alcohol addiction. This stigma can be extremely harmful as it may delay recovery and present additional obstacles to obtaining treatment. Due to the negative stigma surrounding the illness, someone suffering from Alcohol Use Disorder may:
- Have trouble recognizing the problem
- Be afraid to seek help
- Experience social isolation
- Experience judgment from friends and loved ones even after recovery
- Be at risk of relapsing
Alcohol Use Disorder is Not a Moral Failing
One of the most common myths around alcohol addiction is that it’s a moral failing. So, people often place the blame and responsibility on the individual’s character or lack of willpower. It is a common misconception that people “choose” to stay addicted to a harmful substance.
The Medical Council of Alcohol looked at 17 representative population studies to examine the stigma around alcohol addiction and other medical, mental, or social conditions. Across all these studies, they found that compared to those suffering from substance-unrelated mental disorders, people suffering from Alcohol Use Disorder were held more responsible for their illness.
In reality, alcohol addiction is a complex disease brought on by genetic, psychological, and environmental factors. People with mental health problems may be more likely to develop Alcohol Use Disorder. Having a history of trauma also puts people at a much higher risk of Alcohol Use Disorder. Some might even have a genetic predisposition to alcohol addiction.
So each alcohol-dependent patient may have a unique set of factors that “trigger” or complicate their addiction, which means that a one-size-fits-all treatment plan doesn’t work for this condition. Since willpower alone isn’t usually enough to combat all of these underlying problems, recovery often requires an addiction treatment plan that’s unique to the individual and aims to treat co-occurring conditions and underlying causes.
Alcohol Use Disorder Should Be Treated like Other Chronic Diseases
With the misconception that Alcohol Use Disorder patients are responsible for their illness, people often fail to see the condition for what it is — a chronic disease. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism categorizes it as a “brain disorder.” In other words, it’s an illness that affects the mind and body.
Compared to other types of mental illnesses like schizophrenia and depression, alcohol addiction isn’t commonly regarded as a disease. According to the previously cited study from the Medical Council of Alcohol, only 49% of participants in the U.S. regard it as a mental illness.
In reality, the American Medical Association defines Alcohol Use Disorder as a disease. And like other diseases, it has the following characteristics:
- It exists in and of itself (i.e., it’s biological).
- Without treatment, it cannot heal/go away on its own.
- It has visible signs and/or symptoms.
- It’s progressive (i.e., it can worsen without treatment).
- Its development and recovery timeline is predictable.
So we must treat Alcohol Use Disorder like other chronic diseases if we want to help our loved ones through the recovery process. This includes challenging our preconceived notions about the disease and investing in tools and resources to aid recovery.
Soberlink, for instance, can be helpful for those currently undergoing addiction treatment. This comprehensive alcohol monitoring system combines wireless connectivity with a remote breathalyzer to automatically document proof of sobriety in real-time. With visible evidence of their efforts, those in recovery can get a sense of accomplishment and an ongoing sense of motivation throughout their journey.
Think of it as investing in a blood glucose monitoring device for a diabetic or a cardiac monitor for someone with heart problems. In fact, 93% of participants in an Omni Institute study felt more accountable using Soberlink. The study also revealed that real-time test results positively impacted the recovery of 93% of participants.
The Rise of Mental Health Awareness
The good news for Alcohol Use Disorder patients and loved ones alike is that there’s been increasing awareness about mental health issues over the past few years. Social media has given people a platform to share their experiences, and influential personalities openly talking about the topic have helped reduce stigma and create robust support systems.
The increase in mental health awareness is likely to have a positive impact on the myths surrounding alcohol addiction as well. As a growing number of people realize that there are real humans with real struggles behind the disease, the negative preconceptions are likely to change in time.
For those battling Alcohol Use Disorder, accountability tools like Soberlink could help pave the way for successful alcohol recovery. With continued empathy and unwavering support from individuals’ Recovery Circles, we can decrease stigmatization around seeking treatment and foster dialogue regarding technology that can help streamline recovery.