Far too often, public perception of those people grappling with alcohol-related challenges is clouded by stigma and misunderstanding. At Waypoint Recovery Center, we believe that breaking down these barriers is the first step towards helping people access the care they need to build a brighter future.
Myth: Only people who drink daily can have an alcohol use disorder.
AUDs can affect individuals who binge drink or engage in heavy episodic drinking, not just those who drink daily. The frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption aren’t the only factors determining an AUD.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, outlines the specific criteria for diagnosing an alcohol use disorder. These criteria consider various aspects of alcohol consumption and its impact on an individual’s life.
- Difficulty controlling alcohol consumption. Difficulty controlling the amount or frequency of alcohol consumed, unsuccessful attempts to cut down or stop drinking.
- Social impairment. Problems in relationships, work, or other social obligations due to alcohol consumption.
- Risky drinking patterns. Continued use of alcohol despite it being physically hazardous, such as drinking and driving.
- Increased tolerance. Needing to drink larger amounts of alcohol to achieve the desired effect or experiencing reduced effects with the same amount of alcohol consumption.
- Increased time spent on alcohol-related activities. Spending a significant amount of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of alcohol use.
- Neglected responsibilities or hobbies. Giving up or reducing important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of alcohol use.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Experiencing physical or psychological withdrawal symptoms when alcohol use is reduced or stopped.
If a person meets at least two of these criteria within a 12-month period, they may be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder.
Myth: You can’t be an alcoholic if you hold down a full-time job and have a successful career.
It’s a common misconception that the only people with alcohol use disorders are those who’ve suffered job loss and severe financial strain due to their addiction. Alcohol use disorders can affect people from all walks of life, regardless of their job status, social status, or career success.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that lawyers, healthcare professionals, white-collar managers, entertainers, and artists all have significantly higher rates of alcohol abuse than the general population, regardless of their career success. In fact, problem drinking often begins as a way to cope with job-related stress.
Myth: Alcohol use disorders only affect men, not women.
While it is true that historically, alcohol use and alcohol-related issues were more commonly associated with men, women are now being diagnosed with alcohol use disorders at increasingly high rates. The CDC reports that 9% of adult women and 13% of adult men had an AUD in 2020. When you factor in all forms of substance abuse, middle-aged women are the fastest-growing segment of people struggling with addiction.
Shifting cultural attitudes play a significant role in the growing number of women with AUDs. For example, “wine mom” culture encourages women to view a glass of wine at the end of the day as a reward for coping with the demands of parenting and marriage, but this can be a slippery slope that results in increased consumption over time. Women with anxiety, depression, and other mental health struggles are particularly at risk.
Myth: If someone has a strong family history of alcoholism, they are destined to become an alcoholic too.
While genetics can play a role in the risk of developing an AUD, it doesn’t mean that individuals with a family history of alcoholism are guaranteed to develop the disorder. Environmental factors and individual choices also have a significant impact. Your genes are not your destiny.
“Genetics of Substance Use Disorders: a Review” in Psychological Medicine points out that while twin and family studies have shown strong inheritance patterns for AUDs, genetic influences account for only about 50% of a person’s total risk. Supportive family and friends, the financial resources to meet basic needs, access to mental health services, and connections to the broader community are just a few of the environmental factors that significantly reduce the risk of alcohol use disorders.
Myth: People with an alcohol use disorder must hit “rock bottom” before seeking help.
Rock bottom moments like a divorce related to alcohol abuse, job loss for drinking-related performance issues, or an alcohol-induced health crisis can spur a person to seek treatment, but waiting for a rock bottom moment can be risky and unnecessary.
Early intervention and seeking help at any stage of an alcohol use disorder can lead to better outcomes. Alcohol use disorders are considered chronic, progressive illnesses much like high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes. It’s never too late to get help, but being proactive about seeking treatment can reduce the risk of serious complications.
Myth: An alcohol use disorder is a personal failing caused by a lack of willpower.
AUDs are recognized as medical conditions by health organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA). They require understanding, empathy, and evidence-based treatment, not judgment or blame.
Because a lack of willpower does not cause alcohol use disorders, thinking that a person can get sober without help is unrealistic. Waypoint Recovery Center’s South Carolina residential addiction treatment program provides a full continuum of care for men and women with alcohol use disorders. Our services include detox, counseling, holistic support, and aftercare planning to ease the transition to independent living. Contact us today to learn how we can help you or your loved one build the foundation for a lasting recovery.