A reader writes in and asks:
“Hi. I am addicted to painkillers. I went to treatment and after almost a year, I relapsed with the pills and started drinking again. Now I have gone back to meetings and I know I can’t drink alcohol and be in recovery. Although I was only drinking sporadically and usually only a couple of drinks when I did, now that I’m trying to stop…I am CRAVING it and thinking about how much I want a drink many times a day. And having a really hard time imagining never enjoying a margarita or a martini ever again! Do you think this makes me an alcoholic? I don’t have a hard time moderating when I do drink (like it was almost impossible to do with the pills), but I don’t know how to go without it altogether? Does that make any sense?”
Yes this makes perfect sense to me and I have seen the situation come up many times throughout my recovery.
But first, some definitions:
Addict = someone who is addicted to drugs.
Alcoholic = someone who is addicted to a drug called alcohol.
Alcohol is a drug.
All addicts and all alcoholics = all addicted to all mood and mind-altering substances.
Let me tell you a story.
When I first got clean and was living in long term treatment, I met a recovering crack addict who said that he did not drink, did not enjoy drinking, and knew for a fact that if he ever picked up a drink in his recovery that it would actually be no big deal. His peers and I showed concern for this attitude, because we were all learning about cross addiction and how a drug is a drug (including alcohol) and if you pick up any mood or mind altering substance and use it then it will lead you back to your drug of choice. So we showed concern for him and tried to explain this too him but he maintained that alcohol produced no such reaction in him and that it would never be an issue.
Well this person stayed clean and sober for a few years and left the program successfully, but you can guess what happened: he relapsed and came back to treatment (because I work in this treatment center now I am both blessed and cursed at having to watch people fail and eventually return). Now you can probably guess what his story was upon returning: that alcohol had led him back to his drug of choice.
So this is my prime example but I have met others in recovery who tried to somehow steer around the universal truth that “a drug is a drug.” They never seem to do well. Always remember: alcohol is a drug. Period.
Alcohol is a very crude drug in particular and it is very powerful. If nothing else it will numb anyone right into a coma. You may believe that this does not appeal to you in any way and that your real drug of choice is more seductive than this, but realize that alcohol always works at numbing pain. It numbs you into a coma and eventually death. There are lots of other drugs out there and many of them will also numb your emotional pain but alcohol will always work if you drink enough of it. This makes it extremely dangerous.
Now if someone believes that they are immune to alcohol because they like some other drug much more, then they are in danger of discovering just how well alcohol can substitute for these other drugs.
As addicts, we use drugs for a reason. Most of us are medicating our feelings and numbing emotional pain. At the very least, any addict who has used for a considerable length of time starts to use the drugs in order to deal with emotional pain in their lives. Drugs become our coping mechanism. Maybe alcohol never seemed to help you cope and so you turned to other drugs.
Now, what I am cautioning you about is this: you may not think that alcohol can serve as your coping mechanism. You might not think that it can dull your pain or push you into oblivion. If that is what you think then you are mistaken. I am not encouraging you to drink but I am cautioning you that if you are not careful, you might one day drink that Margarita just for fun and suddenly realize just how well it masks your emotional pain. You might finally discover just how far you can drink yourself into oblivion at some point. Alcohol could become your drug of choice.
Anyone who believes they are not addicted to alcohol but has suffered from other chemical addictions is in a lot of danger when it comes to drinking. Alcohol is a drug, and it is very powerful. It works on anyone.
If you know that you are addicted to chemicals, be it opiates or cocaine or alcohol or whatever, I would urge you to take this advice right here that is already working wonderfully for thousands of recovering addicts: avoid all mood and mind altering substances. That means no alcohol.
There is a small social benefit to alcohol in sharing it with others but that is very minimal and really becomes a hollow excuse that only lives in your head. This is similar to how I felt when quitting smoking: I thought that I would miss out on the social aspect of smoking and took that as a loss of some sort. Of course other socializing has taken the place of the “smoker’s circle” so that excuse doesn’t really wash. You can give up alcohol and still have a social life!