National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week: Debunking 3 myths about drug abuse

National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week is recognized in 2018 as the week of Monday, January 22 through Sunday, January 28, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Since the initial week of observance in 2010, the NDAFW has grown and become more well-known throughout the nation. The goal of the week each year is to "Shatter the Myths" associated with drugs and alcohol, particularly for teens.

In observance of National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week, here are three myths about drugs and the truth behind them:

Myth: Addicts can simply choose to stop using.

From an outsider's perspective, it might appear that using drugs is something that people choose to do or not do. But to someone with a drug addiction, there is no choice. Drug addiction, also called substance use disorder, is a disease that isn't easy to overcome.

Addiction to a particular drug develops, feels and presents itself differently depending on the person, the drug, how it's used and how frequently. For example, some drugs, like opioid painkillers, generally cause addiction much more quickly than others, such as alcohol, according to the Mayo Clinic. Many people become addicted after experimental or occasional use. Others become dependent on a legal substance that was prescribed by their doctors, such as a pain reliever, or that they can purchase anytime they please, like alcohol.

When a person is addicted to a particular substance, he or she feels an intense craving that cannot be satiated by anything other than that drug. Even when his or her rational mind says that using the drug isn't a good idea, the craving can be too strong to ignore. Additionally, choosing to not use the substance can result in highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, including feeling physically ill, vomiting, fever, insomnia, depression, tremors, seizures and more. Depending on the drug, these effects can last for days, weeks or even months, according to American Addiction Centers.

In some cases, withdrawal can be just as dangerous as the drug itself. For people addicted to alcohol, benzodiazepines or opioids, going through the withdrawal period can be more than uncomfortable - it can be deadly, according to Psychology Today. It's essential that the addicted person takes care when going through withdrawals, and ideally seeks recovery in a safe, medical environment with supervision.

Myth: Street drugs pose the most risk.

Buying and using illegal drugs is a dangerous game. Beyond the harm that the drugs themselves can cause, there's no guarantee for purity or quality of the substance bought from a drug dealer or stranger. This can cause the drugs to have unintended side effects that make the experience even more unsafe. Therefore, it seems logical to conclude that these drugs pose the most risk for drug users.

Most people who misuse prescription pain relievers get their drugs from friends, family members or doctors.

However, many people ages 12 and older who misused pain relievers in the past year obtained the drugs from a familiar source: friends, family or doctors, according to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

  • 40.4 percent of prescription pain reliever misusers got their drug for free from a friend or relative.
  • 37.5 percent got it through a health care provider, most commonly a single doctor.
  • 8.9 percent bought it from a friend or relative.
  • 3.7 percent took it from a friend or relative without asking first.

Painkillers aren't the only type of drug that users can obtain from a familiar source. A study that focused on misuse of Adderall, which is often prescribed for ADHD, found that nonmedical use increased 67.1 percent among people ages 18 to 25 between 2006 and 2011. Additionally, emergency department visits associated with the drug increased 155.9 percent during that time, ABC News reported in 2017. People who misused Adderall primarily obtained it through their doctors by way of a prescription, or through friends or relatives.

This indicates that illicit drugs are within reach for people of all ages. As such, it's important to educate past and potential future users about the negative effects of drug use and addiction.

Myth: Drug use doesn't affect anyone but the user.

Some people may assume that the substances they put into their own bodies have no effect on anyone else but them. When it comes to drug use, though, the consequences are much more far-reaching than you might think.

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc., drug abuse has major financial costs for the entire country. An estimated $130 billion is lost due to lowered productivity, and the medical expenses caused by drug use are as high as $20 billion. Legal expenses, including efforts by law enforcement to lessen the flow of drugs, cost $40 billion. Further, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 217 cases of people dying of an overdose of drugs or alcohol while at work in 2016, a 32 percent increase over the year prior.

On a more familial level, drug use and overdoses can have many negative effects on family members. One study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs noted that after losing a family member due to an overdose, people can feel guilt, grief, anger and shame.

Drug use is never a safe option. There will always be risk for addiction, injury or death when using illicit, dangerous substances. For this reason, it's important that parents make an effort to prevent their children from obtaining drugs from their peers. It's also critical that anyone working to overcome an addiction get medical help.