9 Popular Drug Myths Ep 1 – Heroin, Alcohol, and The Addiction “Cure”
By Lauren Brande | Published 06/12/17
My name is Lollie and you’re listening to Let’s Talk Drugs, where we take an in-depth look at substance abuse by examining the evidence. Let’s Talk Drugs is presented by ProjectKnow.com (that’s project k-n-o-w dot com), a website dedicated to providing accurate and easy-to-understand information about drugs and alcohol. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse, call us at to speak with a recovery support advisor about getting help.
This series will explore 9 popular drug myths, from single-use heroin addiction to whether or not ecstasy can cause holes in your brain. We’ll be featuring 3 myths per episode, so be sure to subscribe and check back next Monday for more drug debunking.
This first episode looks at heroin addiction, alcohol risks, and the so-called addiction “cure.”
We’ve all heard some sort of exaggerated drug story. Maybe you’ve heard of a woman who took so much acid that she disappeared for over a week, or you heard about some guy in Florida going full-on cannibal because he took a high dose of bath salts. Or maybe you’ve heard some popular drug “recommendation” rumors: you can get addicted to certain drugs after using them once, doctor-prescribed drugs are safe, or Ecstasy can cause holes in your brain.
Drugs have always been a topic of rumors and urban legends. But often, facts get lost in the sensationalism. Having accurate information about drugs is a vital part of understanding and preventing abuse and addiction.
Relying on rumor is not a good way to get information about such powerful substances, so we’re here to bust some popular drug myths and make sure you’re equipped with facts!
Myth #1: You Can Get Addicted to Heroin the First Time You Use It
Heroin has an undeniably high addiction potential. But that doesn’t mean that every person who tries heroin gets addicted to it.
In fact, of the nearly 1 million people that reported using heroin in 2015 (not counting the additional 4 million that tried heroin at some point in their life), only about 600,000 had an actual heroin use disorder throughout the entire year.1 That’s not to say these rates aren’t heartbreakingly high. It simply emphasizes that it takes a lot more than one try to develop a full-blown addiction.
“Addiction develops at different paces for different people.”
The key word here is “develop.” Addiction isn’t something that happens after a single use. It’s an entire set of behaviors that surround drug use, often arising from a sense of compulsion to use despite negative consequences such as health problems (both mental and physical), job loss, interpersonal turbulence, or performance drops in school.
What many people think of as “addiction” is actually tolerance and dependence. The body and the brain become so accustomed to the presence of heroin that the user requires larger and larger doses to experience the same high and avoid withdrawal. With opiates such as heroin and prescription painkillers, the effects may start to diminish after only one dose,2 but that doesn’t mean that a person is addicted, though it is certainly a factor that contributes to it.
Addiction develops at different paces for different people. Some people may be more protected from heroin addiction by environmental factors such as temperament, community pride, and having positive drug-free relationships.3 These same factors skewed in the opposite direction may put a person even more at risk of developing an addiction. It all depends on the individual.
The bottom line is that it’s hard to predict whether a person will eventually get addicted to heroin or not, but you can’t get addicted after only one use. This does not in any way mean that heroin is safe. Just because you won’t transform into an addict after a single use does not mean that you should experiment with heroin.
Countless people have had their lives ravaged by heroin and other opiates, and to oversimplify this problem by saying, “Well, you can’t get addicted from just one use,” completely ignores the extreme dangers that even a single time using heroin can inflict on a person, including the very real risk of deadly overdose.
Myth #2: Alcohol Is Only Dangerous if You Get Addicted
Alcohol may be a legal drug, but it still carries a set of health and safety risks that must be recognized, which we discussed in our first series, “Alcohol and Pop Culture.” Problematic use patterns don’t always involve addiction – in fact, most people who have risky drinking habits (such as frequent binge drinking) are not physically dependent, but they can still suffer major consequences including organ damage and mental health disruptions.4
Alcohol is one of the deadliest recreational substances – even more deadly than cocaine and heroin, by some measures.5 Nearly 16 million U.S. citizens age 12 or older had a diagnosed alcohol use disorder in 2015 alone, representing 6% of the population.1 This isn’t even counting the millions of people whose alcoholism remains undiagnosed and unreported. One study even found that alcohol was involved in almost 20% of global emergency department visits, and another found that it was involved in 6% of worldwide deaths.6, 7
Drinking can result in major health problems, regardless of whether a person is struggling with addiction or not. These heath issues can include:8
- Heart problems.
- High blood pressure.
- Liver damage.
- Inflammation of the pancreas.
- Lower immune defense.
- Cancer (mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and breast).
One of the most problematic patterns of drinking is known as binge drinking, defined as having 4 or more standard drinks for women and 5 or more drinks for men within 2 hours.9 This type of drinking behavior stresses the body and the brain by forcing them to endure extreme highs and extreme lows, ultimately resulting in a higher risk of developing negative health consequences such as alcohol dependence, psychiatric disorders, and behavioral problems.10
Alcohol doesn’t just affect the body and brain, either. It’s involved in almost half of sexual assaults,11, 12, 13 and it may even make domestic violence worse.14, 15 Because it lowers inhibitions, a drinking person who is already experiencing thoughts or fantasies about harming someone may be more likely to act upon these feelings.
Finally, there is the danger of driving after drinking. Outside of the obvious danger to the intoxicated driver and his or her passengers, nearly 20% of fatal drunk driving crashes kill people outside the vehicle – meaning pedestrians and other people on the road.16
Alcohol is far from a safe substance, despite its legal status. It may be fun to go out and get buzzed with your friends, but if you’re doing it on a regular basis, your body can suffer severe consequences regardless of whether you’re addicted or not.
Myth #3: You’re ‘Cured’ After You Leave Rehab
Recovery from substance abuse involves hard work and dedication. Seeking treatment is merely the first step in what can be a lifelong process. Many recovering addicts and alcoholics will continue to identify with their substance problems long after completing treatment. For many, this identity is a source of empowerment as well as a reminder to continue to fight against this pervasive issue.
“[Relapse] rates are between 40% and 60%, which is within the same range as relapse for other health-related struggles such as Type I diabetes and high blood pressure.”
Treatment programs provide a stable routine to begin recovery. They help people learn about their substance use habits and practice resisting their cravings to use. Once a person completes a program, they will be better equipped to cope with life outside the sober haven of rehab.
But sometimes returning to the original abuse environment can bring about unanticipated challenges to abstinence, and a person may use again. This is called relapse, and it is very common: Rates are between 40% and 60%, which is within the same range as relapse for other health-related struggles such as Type I diabetes and high blood pressure.17 Much like these other medical issues, addiction is a debilitating problem that can take its toll on a person’s body and life.
It takes time for the brain to heal from substance abuse, and the road to recovery is never perfect. Sometimes people make mistakes, but as long as a person keeps doing their best to get and stay clean, they’ll be on the right track. Long-term treatment combined with aftercare such as self-help groups, sober living, or 12-step meetings increases a person’s chance of staying sober longer.18
So to recap: Rehab alone can’t “cure” addiction. Recovering from substance abuse takes a lot of effort, and people are going to slip up sometimes. But as long as a person keeps trying, recovery is possible.
Well, that’s it for our first 3 myths! Did any of them surprise you? Just wait until you hear the next 3, where we look at LSD, prescription drugs, and addict stereotypes. Tweet us at #LetsTalkDrugs with any questions and myths that you’d like debunked, or to simply share your thoughts. We’re available on SoundCloud, iTunes, Google Play, Youtube, and most podcast listening apps, so check our website for more information and be sure to subscribe. Until next time, I’m Lollie and this has been Let’s Talk Drugs. ?
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- Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2016). Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Rockville, MD.
- Laulin, J. P., Larcher, A., Ce ?le`rier, E., Le Moal, M., & Simonnet, G. (1998). Acute tolerance associated with a single opiate administration: involvement of N-methyl-D-aspartate- dependent pain facilitatory systems. Neuroscience, 84 (2). 583-589.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Drugs, brain, and behavior: the science of addiction.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Excessive drinking costs U.S. $223.5 billion. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
- Lachenmeier, D. K. & Rehm, J. (2015). Comparative risk assessment of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other illicit drugs using the margin of exposure approach. Scientific Reports, 5. 1-7.
- World Health Organization. (2007). Alcohol and injury in emergency departments.
- World Health Organization. (2014). Global status report on alcohol and health 2014.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2010). Beyond hangovers: Understanding alcohol’s impact on your health. 15-7604.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Drinking levels defined. National Institute of Health.
- Robin, R. W., Long, J. C., Rasmussen, J. K., Albaugh, B., & Goldman, D. (1998). Relationship of binge drinking to alcohol dependence, other psychiatric disorders, and behavioral problems in and American Indian tribe. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 22(2). 518-523.
- Abbey, A., Zawacki, T., Buck, P. O., Clinton, A. M., & McAuslan, P. (2004). Sexual assault and alcohol consumption: What do we know about their relationship and what types of research are still needed? Aggression and Violent Behavior, 9. 271–303.
- Seto, M. C. & Barbaree, H. E. (1995). The role of alcohol in sexual aggression. Clinical Psychology Review, 15. 545– 66.
- Testa M. The impact of men’s alcohol consumption on perpetration of sexual aggression. Clinical Psychology Review. 2002; 22:1239–1263.
- Foran, H. M. & O’Leary, K. D. (2008). Alcohol and intimate partner violence: A meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 28. 1222-1234.
- Graham, K., Bernards, S., Wilsnack, S. C., & Gmel, G. (2011). Alcohol may not cause partner violence but it seems to make it worse: A cross national comparison of the relationship between alcohol and severity of partner violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 26 (8). 1503-1523.
- Dept of Transportation (US), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Traffic Safety Facts 2013 Data: Alcohol-Impaired Driving. Washington (DC): NHTSA; 2014.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Treatment and Recovery. Drugs, brains, and behavior: the science of addiction.
- Kissin, W., McLeod, C., & McKay, J. (2003). The longitudinal relationship between self-help group attendance and course of recovery. Evaluation and Program Planning, 26. 311-323.
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