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Top 5 myths about addiction and treatment – as seen in the Globe and Mail

"Myths are perpetuated because of the continuing stigma around addiction":

Misconceptions about addiction continue to persist even as experts have gained effective new treatment tools and research advances. Ongoing “myths” about the lives and motivations of individuals with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) can cause considerable harm, says Dr. Yelena Chorny, Chief of Addiction and Trauma Services at Homewood Health Centre, in Guelph, Ontario (HHC).

“Myths are perpetuated because of the continuing stigma around addiction,” Dr. Chorny says. People often internalize the stigma and feel shame, she adds. “They feel alone and fear that speaking up will jeopardize their job, relationships or other aspects of their lives.”

The goal is to shatter the myths and to encourage people to be open about their challenges and seek help earlier, she says.

Below, Dr. Chorny shares facts and insights that debunk the Top 5 Mental Health Addiction Treatment Myths.   

Dr. Yelena Chorny - Top 5 Mental Health Addiction Treatment Myths

Dr. Yelena Chorny, Chief of Addiction and Trauma Services, Homewood Health Centre

Myth #1 – You have to hit “rock bottom” before treatment can be effective.

This misconception is both untrue and incredibly damaging because even people who seem to be functioning well in life can have an underlying addiction, but don’t necessarily see themselves as ready for treatment. We know that earlier interventions increase people’s chances of getting well, and that having a strong family support system and a job to go back to increase the chances of a successful recovery.

It’s also minimizing people’s innate strengths to say only the very worst consequences will motivate them. In treatment, we see people motivated for various reasons, such as a desire to be a better partner or parent, and part of our role is to help people identify and deepen that motivation.

Myth #2: Individuals are in a “bubble” and far removed from real life when in treatment.

Some believe that inpatient treatment is not effective because it’s not “real life.” They think “this is a bubble where I’m protected from my stressors, so how can that be helpful when I’m back out in the world?”  

In fact, this creation of a protected space helps people focus fully on themselves and doing the needed work to support their recovery. Treatment is often a microcosm of their life outside, and invariably, the problems that arise during treatment are the problems that they have in everyday life.

When things arise in the treatment environment, like conflict or a struggle to follow through on commitments, the therapist’s job is to help the person reflect on how the challenge they are facing in the treatment setting mirrors challenges they experience in their life beyond treatment. In this structured environment where using substances to cope with challenges is not an option, individuals are given the opportunity to practise new ways of getting their needs met, communicating with others, managing conflict and tolerating difficult emotions

Private bedroom suite at Homewood Ravensview, Vancouver Island, B.C.

A private bedroom suite at Homewood Ravensview, Vancouver Island, B.C.

Myth # 3: You can’t truly treat other mental illnesses until someone is sober.

Unfortunately, we do still hear about people seeking treatment for a mental health issue and being told, “Come back when you’ve been sober for three months.”

Substance Use Disorder frequently co-occurs with other mental health issues like depression, anxiety and PTSD. While people may use substances as a coping mechanism for other issues, the substance use itself ultimately can worsen a person’s mental health.

Research is very clear on this: We know the gold standard of care is to treat both mental health and substance use issues at the same time.

The Homewood Health Centre offers unique programming that combines treatment for co-occurring mental health and substance use conditions. Examples of these specialized programs include the Integrated Mood, Anxiety and Addictions Concurrent Program, the Traumatic Stress Injury and Concurrent Program and the new Women’s Trauma and Concurrent Program.

Homewood Health Centre treatment facility in Guelph, Ontario

Homewood Health Centre treatment facility in Guelph, Ontario.

Myth # 4 Once Substance Use Disorder treatment is complete, individuals are cured.

Inpatient treatment can be a meaningful and impactful step in a person’s recovery journey, but it is just one step. Research has shown that addiction, like many mental health issues, is chronic – a lifelong disorder that can remit and relapse.

The journey also differs between individuals – and staying well requires ongoing vigilance and commitment to the work of recovery.  

At Homewood Health, we have a “stepped care continuum” model, involving varying levels of treatment and support.

Inpatient treatment is the most intensive level of support; however, sometimes before a person begins that phase and certainly after, they may benefit from less intensive options. We provide outpatient services, peer support groups and individual counselling, as well as access to aftercare or recovery management. A full spectrum of care is available, and people can move in or out of the various levels depending on their current needs.

The continuum of care is about support as well as accountability. Homewood Health programs are holistic in their focus, and the goal is not just to stop using substances. It’s a necessary step but not sufficient to reach the ultimate goal – which is to help people live a life they feel good about.

Myth # 5: People don’t change and never really fully recover. 

A lot of what we see or hear in movies or popular media demonstrates the tragic crisis of addiction in present day. It is very real and there are far too many deaths.  

However, it is important to know that many people do get better. Former patients from my early years of practice who entered treatment with severe addictions and trauma – contact me to share milestones and successes. They came here, worked hard and continued working hard after they left.

It’s so rewarding to see people with addictions who were able to access the right supports and experience such a dramatic change in their life trajectory. They can go on to live the life they choose to live.

Are you or someone you care about living with mental health or addiction challenges? Homewood Health Centre, Homewood Ravensview and The Residence at Homewood, are three fully accredited, physician-led treatment facilities offering several specialized programs and extensive treatment services.

Reach out today.   

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