Addict but Not Alcoholic, Is It Ever Safe to Drink Again?
If you're a recovering drug addict, but not an alcoholic, can you ever drink alcohol again?
Conventional wisdom in recovery, addiction treatment, and research all dictate that if you become addicted to a substance that makes life unmanageable, you are at high risk to develop abuse, dependence, and/or addiction to other substances. Still the question gets asked frequently, “I’ve never had a problem with alcohol. Is it okay for me to drink as long as I do it in moderation?”
Short answer: It depends on what “okay” means! Consider the following factors carefully before making your decision:
It’s Socially Suitable
Alcohol is not only socially acceptable, it’s celebrated and steeped in our traditions. Americans face a great deal of social pressure to drink. Worse, we tend to view being able to have a cocktail or two as part of being “normal.”
I urge folks to consider...
- whether they’re succumbing to the expectations of the mainstream, and
- how their comfort level in sharing that they’re in recovery from addiction impacts their choices about drinking
Is It Safe?
If “okay” means “safe” then we can objectively view consuming alcohol as a calculated risk. My professional experience has shown that a recovering addict who uses alcohol is very likely to develop a problem with alcohol.
I challenge the motivation and intentions of those I serve by asking them to consider whether their desire to be and/or appear “normal” is self limiting.
Alcohol is a Drug
It’s extraordinary that professionally and in research, we continue to differentiate drugs and alcohol. There is no scientific or objective reason to separate alcohol from all other substances. The illusion is evident in the similar differentiation of medications and drugs.
All mood altering substances have the capacity to do harm.
Sometimes we overlook the obvious. Alcohol is dangerous when combined with certain drugs! Most notably, using benzodiazepines (Ativan, Xanax, Klonipin, Valium and others) and alcohol together is likely to cause substantially amplified affects and is potentially lethal.
Moderation is a Hard Place to Find
Manageability is vital to the life of a person in recovery. If the goal is to drink in moderation, then I encourage folks to consider how many aspects of their life are at a happy medium. If we’re not able to do moderation in our careers, in our close relationships or in managing our daily lives, then drinking in moderation is more of a pipe dream than anything else.
It’s worth considering not only how much alcohol constitutes moderation, but what our motives are as well. We must consider, are we drinking for enjoyment, purpose, or for affect? We put ourselves in harm’s way when we drink to cope with negative emotions, relieve stress, or to overcome social anxiety. I urge folks to talk this over with loved ones, not only to consider motives but also to consider how they feel about us drinking and what their concerns are.
What Constitutes Controlled Drinking?
I urge folks to write out and communicate to others what limits they’re setting for themselves and to listen for whether it resonates as truth. Sometimes we catch ourselves deceiving ourselves. Folks in recovery are the best safeguard because they immediately recognize when we’re rationalizing. It’s obvious in the language being used.
Red flags include:
- “Just.” As in, “I’ll just have a couple beers.”
- “Probably” (ultimate noncommittal word) “I’ll probably just have a glass of wine.”
- “Or” As in, “I’ll just have one or two.”
The goal of language like this is to leave the door open metaphorically. Responsibility doesn’t work this way, our disease does. Accountability hinges on specificity, so I ask a lot of seemingly silly questions:
- How big is the glass?
- How many is a “couple”?
- Is “One or two” different than “No more than two?"
Recording the amount we drink, how often we drink and what we’re feeling when we choose to drink in a journal is a good safeguard. Otherwise, one or two becomes two or three, which becomes four or five.
I often quote Guns & Roses, “I used to do a little but the little didn’t do so the little got more and more.”
The Acid Test
- The biggest risk in using alcohol is that after even just one drink, we may find ourselves craving our drug of choice. If this happens even once, then I say the risk is too great.
- Alcohol reduces inhibitions without concern for whether the inhibition is healthy or unhealthy. The fear of relapse is a healthy fear and ought not to be chemically altered.
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