Tuni Heriford’s brother is like many people who drink or take drugs recreationally.
“He knows when to pump the brakes; he has that on-off switch,” Heriford says.
Heriford is an intake coordinator at Crestview Recovery where she helps clients and family members go through the process of being admitted to a treatment center. But she’s also been the person on the other end of that call many times.
“I went to treatment seven times. It took me a while. I had to explain to my brother that I’m not intentionally blowing up my life; I don’t know why I do the things I do,” Heriford says.
She simply does not have the ability to pump the brakes and employ that on-off switch.
“Most addicts and alcoholics don’t. It’s hard to get somebody to understand that it’s not as easy as ‘don’t do it,’ ” Heriford says.
That idea that it’s only a matter of willpower to get someone to stop or refrain from using drugs and alcohol is just one of many misperceptions when it comes to the greater public’s understanding about addiction and the journey of recovery.
These misperceptions can come from many different places; stereotypes perpetuated by pop culture, past government programs, or ideals pushed by religion that question morality and character, all of which can vary by region.
“Where I grew up in North Carolina and the Southeast part of the country [the idea about addicts] was, ‘they need to find religion and they need to be punished,’ but it goes deeper than that. You’re not treating the individual, you’re treating the problem,” says Eric Pinkston, a primary counselor at Crestview Recovery, working a caseload of clients providing group and individual therapy.
Pinkston is also someone who has struggled with addiction in the past. He’s been sober since January 2013, going from a person who was homeless with one pair of pants to a 12-month intensive program and eventually being a man happily married with children “and a true purpose and satisfaction in life.”
Because Heriford and Pinkston work with clients and family members at different points in the recovery journey, they’ve seen many different misperceptions. But they’ve also seen how they can change.
First, the misperceptions.
“Addiction is the result of some sort of moral shortcoming, addiction can be treated and solved via the criminal justice system, addiction is associated with certain racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic classes,” Pinkston ticks off.
“This is a 21- or 28-day process and then someone is good to go and go back to work, or that someone will come in for 30 days and the addict is the only one who needs to change,” Heriford adds.
These mostly hinge on a surface-level understanding about addiction — and anyone can believe them, addict or family member. It flattens everything to black and white, good and bad, something that happens to the weak and most definitely doesn’t happen to anyone like them, or someone they might know personally.
In reality, most people know someone who has been affected directly or indirectly by addiction. And, as Heriford says, “addiction is a family disease.”
“We can no longer ignore the fact it’s tearing apart families all over the globe. It affects people of all walks of life. Drugs do not discriminate,” Pinkston says.
Furthermore, there is no one-size-fits-all definition of addiction or treatment as it is a deeply personal disease. Some addicts can attend AA meetings and remain sober, while others need the benefit of an inpatient program. Relapsing after treatment has nothing to do with willpower and doesn’t mean that treatment didn’t work.
“It’s like if you have high blood pressure and the doctor says ‘you need to take this medicine every day.’ Recovery is no different. For me, I can trace back [any relapse] to me ceasing to work my program of recovery,” Heriford says.
Challenging these misperceptions can be as easy as doing research to gain a better understanding of the facets of addiction. But it can also mean opening your mind to possibilities.
“Volunteer, get involved with an organization that has a mission to help people, be on the front lines. Interact with someone who needs something. All of us have a wealth of information available at any given time and there’s a lot of people who don’t want to remain anonymous and want to share their story,” Pinkston says.
Above all, be supportive.
“I was fortunate that my family still loves me even with relapses. They are supportive when I’m choosing to get well. I think they’re really educated around it, a lot of people don’t feel like that,” Heriford says.
Crestview Recovery in Portland, Oregon is a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center with the experience to help you recover. Our caring and understanding staff members are among the most experienced in the field.