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9 Things TV Gets Wrong About Addiction

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If you’ve never had to live through an addiction in real life, there’s a good chance you’ve picked up some ideas about what the experience is like from shows on TV.

Well, just like some of those kitschy products on late-night infomercials, what you see isn’t always what you get.

TV has a long history of promoting ill-founded stereotypes, misinformation, and over-simplification when it comes to the topic of addiction.

Here are 9 things they get wrong:

Addiction is simply a chemical hook.

While early research portrayed this as fact, it turns out those studies were fundamentally flawed. All addictions are not equal; some individuals have a strong chemical dependence requiring a physical detox while for others, addiction represents coping behaviours. We now know the significance of other factors in a person’s environment both past and present in addictions. Programs which focus not only on detoxing but the deep understanding of the need to learn new ways of coping with anxiety, stress, and emotions are necessary.

If you have an addiction to alcohol, you need to constantly consume it throughout the day.

This is an interesting one. What you likely don’t realize is that many people with alcohol addictions are perfectly fine to go days or even weeks without alcohol. The real problem is they often lose control once they pick up a glass. So, while someone may have some control over when they start drinking, they have limited control over when they stop.

The only way to fight addictions is the war on drugs.

The war on drugs seemed like a daily headline for years. While images of military and police storming into buildings made great TV, we now know that the much-hyped war on drugs has done little to stop the problem. Instead, spending the “war money” on programs that address the mental health issues which lead to addiction would be more beneficial.

You can only be addicted to chemicals like drugs, alcohol, or nicotine.

When it comes to addictions, these tend to be the ones that show up on the small screen. However, the reality is you can form an addiction to just about anything, from watching TV and playing computer games, to sex, working out, and fatty foods. In fact, recent studies show that people with gambling addictions, for instance, can suffer physical withdrawal symptoms just as bad or worse than the ones from drugs.

Dependence and addiction are the same thing.

Dependence happens when you develop a physical tolerance to a drug and suffer withdrawal symptoms when you stop consuming it. Once you stop, you have no psychological need or desire for it to help you cope with a void in your life. An addiction, on the other hand, has much more to do with your psychological need to fill that void and will persist even once you work through your physical dependence.

Rehab alone will solve an addiction.

This one comes up a lot on TV. Someone realizes they’ve got a problem, they disappear for a few weeks, and when they return, their life is back to normal. Water under the bridge. The truth is, spending time at a recovery centre is an important step but continued support is essential. Treatment is about providing the tools to prevent relapses and outlining a path to recovery. Making sure that the treatment centre has a robust after-care program ensures that the tools learned will be supported.

The threat of punishment is enough to get someone sober.

America loves its shows about coming down hard on criminals and those addicted to drugs or alcohol. While this heavy-handed approach creates lots of action and drama, it simply doesn’t work. To recover from addictions requires a deep understanding of motivations, habits, and emotions that go into an individual’s using substances to navigate life.

Hitting rock bottom has to happen first.

In many shows, the person must be scared straight by a tragic event. Maybe it’s an accident or hospitalization, but it takes something dramatic to get them to rethink the path they’re on. In reality, the seeds of recovery can be planted at any time.

Willpower is enough to stop.

This one also comes up in many shows. Someone sees their friend or colleague losing control, takes them aside and says, “You really have to stop.” The other person nods in agreement and then the issue is put to bed. Unfortunately, real life is far more complicated. Most people cannot stop drinking or using without getting help first. Willpower alone rarely stands a chance against addiction.While what we see on TV isn’t always accurate, our hope is that it fuels more discussion and more opportunities for learning.So, the next time you see an addiction portrayed on TV, just remember, there’s likely much more to that addiction than what you see in 21-44 minutes of screen time.

We Can Help You

Whether you want to seek treatment near home, farther afield, or online, you have plenty of options with EHN Canada. We make care accessible with facilities all over Canada.

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An Important Update About the Omicron Variant

We are open and accepting patients. 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been dedicated to keeping our patients safe as they recover from addiction or mental health disorders.

As the situation continues to evolve, as do our protocols and practices at each EHN Canada facility. And recent news of the highly-infectious Omicron Variant is no different. Please know that we continue to implement the highest standards of infection prevention in accordance with our local health authority.

If you have any questions about your or a loved one’s care and the protocols we have in place for staff, patients, and visitors, please contact us at 416-644-6345 or email at [email protected] 

Thank you and stay safe,
The Healthcare Team at EHN Canada