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4 Common Mental Health and Addiction Myths

This month I’ve decided to become a Myth Buster. There are many myths and misconceptions about mental illness and substance use and abuse which continue to abound even in our “enlightened” society. Some myths are so stubborn that they reappear even after the facts have been present for years. People just want to believe.


MYTH: You can’t be an alcoholic if you just drink beer!

FACT: Alcoholism, like any addiction, is not based on what you use but on what happens when you use. Addiction results such as job loss, family and relationship problems, and financial problems are the indicators of addiction problems rather than what you use.

MYTH: People with depression just need to “buck up” and pull themselves out of it.

FACT: This myth has many variations: “All that kid needs is a good swat on his back side”, “He just wants attention”, “She’s just shy”. Mental illness is an illness. It comes from a biological base which can not be willed away. This is not to excuse bad behavior or personal actions for which people need to be held accountable. It is to say that we need to distinguish the difference through awareness. Unless you have experienced the utter energy drain of depression or the opposite uncontrollable energy flow of mania or the panic an anxiety attack brings, it is hard to totally understand mental illness.

MYTH: Prohibition of alcohol (the 18th Amendment) did not work.

FACT: During the time the 18th amendment was in place, domestic violence decreased, and there was a reduction in incidences of public drunkenness and of alcohol-related crime, imprisonments, and hospitalizations. Statistics show that Prohibition reduced the annual per capita consumption from 9.8 liters (2.6 gal) of absolute alcohol during the period before state laws were effective (1906-1910) to 3.7 liters (0.97 gal) after Prohibition (1934). Moreover, no striking statistical evidence of a crime wave during the 1920s exists, although the crime rate did rise.

MYTH: Knowledge is the key to becoming well.

FACT: Though education gives people more options and a better understanding of their illness, the road to recovery and change is one of transformation in several areas. We are just beginning to understand how the brain stores and responds to information and events. The study of trauma and how it impacts the brain is giving us insight into brain processes and thus human behavior. We see that emotions, thoughts and primitive responses are stored separately. We are beginning to realize that even when we understand why we do what we do that the parts of our brains which store the emotions and automatic responses “don’t get it”. They continue to respond to certain life events the same way. We are beginning to learn what reaches these parts of the brain in therapy so we can help those parts to heal.

About the author

Allan Braaten

Allan Braaten is a former Clinical Director of High Country Behavioral Health in Thermopolis, WY. He has been a practicing psychotherapist since the mid-1970s, specializing in child, adolescent, and family therapies.

Allan obtained his Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of North Dakota and his Master of Arts in Counseling and Applied Behavioral Analysis from Ohio State University in a specialized program involving special education, counseling, and therapeutic recreation designed to work with children and adolescents in therapeutic placements.

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