Coping with addiction is difficult under the best of circumstances. Wading through the vast amount of misinformation makes it even more difficult. Myths and misunderstandings abound about issues like the origins of alcoholism, alcohol tolerance, and what makes an alcoholic. These lead to the perpetuation of stigmas that prevent people from participating in the alcohol rehab programs that could save their lives.
Myth 1: “My blood type and genes protect me from alcohol addiction”
There is a good deal of evidence that genes play a role in developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD). The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that about 50% of anyone’s risk of developing drug or alcohol dependency is in their genetic makeup.1 However, that means 50% of the risk has nothing to do with genetics. Other factors include cultural influence and environmental factors. For example, if heavy alcohol use was considered normal in your family or among your peers, you are at a higher risk for AUD.
Myth 2: “Having a high alcohol tolerance is a good thing”
There’s a perception that people who can “hold their liquor” must have a more robust constitution than those who get inebriated more easily. Consuming large amounts of alcohol without a high level of intoxication—otherwise known as ethanol resistance—is actually a sign of alcohol dependence, not personal strength.
Many factors affect how a person metabolizes alcohol, according to a report by Stanford University.2 Being “strong” is not one of them. These factors include:
- Biological sex – Generally speaking, women have fewer of the enzymes needed to metabolize alcohol.
- Weight – More pounds means more space through which the body can diffuse alcohol.
- Health/genetic issues – Certain conditions and deficiencies affect the body’s ability to metabolize alcohol.
- Medications – Some medications cause adverse interactions with alcohol.
- Drinking method – Sipping a drink instead of “chugging” gives the body more time to metabolize.
- Chronic alcoholism – People who drink excessive amounts build a tolerance to the effects of alcohol.
Developing a high alcohol tolerance can also be a learned behavior. Studies suggest that children of alcoholics who are consistently in around heavy drinking are more likely to develop high tolerance levels.3 They have learned to accept heavy drinking as normal behavior.
People who are ethanol resistant are at higher risk for consuming dangerous amounts of alcohol. They are also at a higher risk for developing a physical dependence on the substance. Both of these issues can lead to heart, liver, or brain damage.
The next time you meet up with that one friend who can “drink everyone else under the table,” consider looking at their behavior in a different light. That call for one more round may be a sign that they need help.
Myth 3: “You can’t be an alcoholic if you only drink beer”
Several myths fall under the “you can’t be an alcoholic if…” category. It is both a misunderstanding of the disease and a denial of how severe alcohol use disorder is.
Not all alcoholics drink hard liquor or drink every day or lose their jobs or live in chaos. Don’t underestimate how well alcoholics hide their behavior or become adept at hiding and covering up their problems. Many people with AUD can maintain a normal-looking life, but that doesn’t mean they are not suffering the consequences of their disease.
A person is not an alcoholic because of the type of alcohol they drink or how orderly their life looks from the outside. Instead, it is defined by a person’s dependency and lack of control over their drinking.
Myth 4: “If going to alcohol rehab didn’t work the first time, there’s no point in trying again”
There is a misconception that controlling alcoholism is a matter of willpower. Many people believe that if a person with AUD has been through treatment and relapsed, they just need to try harder. They believe that going through treatment again is a waste of time and money. Fortunately for people with substance use disorders and those who care about them, this is not true.
Like other chronic diseases, addiction requires ongoing care. Relapsing is common. The National Institute of Drug Abuse reports that 40% to 60% of people with substance abuse issues experience relapse after completing a treatment program.4 However, relapsing doesn’t mean that treatment didn’t work or that the person failed.
Why Give Alcohol Rehab a Second Chance?
If we can remove the stigma of addiction, it is easier to understand relapsing without judgment. Imagine you were recently diagnosed with hypertension. You have prescribed medication and a list of suggested lifestyle changes to treat the issue. By following the recommended program, your high blood pressure is controlled. In time, you become less diligent about following your doctor’s recommendations, and your blood pressure goes back up. That doesn’t mean the treatment didn’t work or that it won’t work again. The same goes for alcohol rehab.
A study by the Recovery Research Institute5 found that, on average, it takes two serious attempts at recovery to maintain sobriety. Before you give up on yourself or someone you love, remember that alcoholism is a disease that requires ongoing treatment, not a one-time fix. If you or a loved one needs help with alcohol or drug addiction, call Clear Life Recovery or go online to learn more about our treatment center.
 Genetics of Alcohol Use Disorder | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) (nih.gov)
 Factors That Affect How Alcohol is Absorbed & Metabolized | Office of Substance Use Programs Education & Resources (stanford.edu)
 Adult Children of Alcoholics: Traits, Characteristics, Laundry List (alcorehab.org)
 Treatment and Recovery | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
 How many tries does it take to resolve a substance use problem? Lessons from a national study of recovering adults in the U.S. – Recovery Research Institute (recoveryanswers.org)