I can share with you my experience in terms of how I have watched others in recovery deal with the concept of “cross addiction” in recovery.
Most people who come to recovery programs accept the idea that alcohol is just another drug, and that if a person is susceptible to alcohol addiction, then they are also susceptible to opiate addiction, or cocaine addiction, and so on.
In other words, most people accept the idea that “a drug is a drug is a drug.”
However, I have ran into plenty of counter examples to this, in which an individual in recovery will declare that they are addicted to one substance but at the same time they are immune to the addictive properties of another substance.
The first time I encountered this was in my first year of sobriety, and a peer that was in treatment with me was there for crack cocaine addiction. He maintained that alcohol had no appeal to him, and that he could easily drink a single beer without “reactivating” his core addiction, which was to cocaine.
You can probably guess where this story is headed. While I have no idea how this person is doing today, I know for a fact that they struggled on and off for many years after making that statement about being immune to alcohol. Of course that doesn’t mean that they relapsed on booze and it led them back to cocaine, but we can guess that this might be a strong possibility.
Another example of the perils of cross addiction is with the seemingly innocent drug known as marijuana. Due to the recent acceptance movement for marijuana within the medical community, a lot of recovering alcoholics and even drug addicts have turned to marijuana “for medical purposes.” Of course everyone has an opinion about this, but one this is very clear to me: If you use marijuana as it is intended to be used and follow the directions from the medical industry, you are still medicating your emotional state.
In other words, while the medical community is certainly prescribing the drug for things such as pain or appetite stimulation, the people who use marijuana are still getting the bonus side effect in that it medicates their emotions.
What does this mean?
It means that if you are having a bad day and you are upset at your spouse over an argument, and you sit down and use your medical marijuana, even as it is directed to be used (and not abuse it at all), you will medicate those negative emotions away. In other words, by using medical marijuana, you are evading and avoiding any negative emotions that may be swirling around in your life right now.
Of course on the surface this looks like an added bonus, and it certainly feels like a bonus. But that is because, although hiding from your negative emotions is great in the short run, it always comes back to haunt you in the long run. If you fail to process the problem when it is facing you and you just run and hide from it then you have to deal with even more problems later. You only delay the inevitable when you medicate your emotions, and make the problem worse in the end.
If you ask any recovering drug addict or alcoholic about medicating their feelings, most of them will realize that this is definitely true: They were medicating their mood during their addiction. They wanted to be happy all the time, or they at least wanted to avoid feeling negative emotions if possible. And in the beginning of their addiction, their drug allowed them to do this perfectly. The first few times they got wasted, their buzz completely eliminated all of their emotional problems and made them happy. It was like magic.
This is why they got addicted! Of course the buzz was great in the beginning, that’s how it led them to addiction. Their drug of choice worked perfectly at doing what they wanted it to do. As Louis CK says “All drugs are, is the perfect solution to every problem that you have right now….and they’re so good, that they ruin your life!” All joking aside, people laugh because they know the truth in what he is saying: The reason that people get addicted in the first place is because they love the effect that is produced when they use their drug of choice.
In the end, however, regardless of what drug of choice you choose, that buzz becomes a coping strategy that you are using to shield yourself from reality with. And we are not talking about your physical reality, we are talking about your emotional reality.
In other words, whether a person is addicted to alcohol, or marijuana, or painkillers, or cocaine, in the end they are all medicating themselves in order to avoid reality, in order to numb their feelings, in order to escape from themselves.
When you first start experimenting with a drug, this is not the effect that you get. At first the drug is unique, you have fun, you enjoy the buzz, you are “partying” with it. But eventually it is just an escape.
Certain drugs can fill this role. We call those drugs “addictive.” Alcohol, opiates, cocaine, meth, marijuana, and a host of other substances can all remove us from reality.
In my opinion, the addict or alcoholic who believes that they can somehow cheat the rules of addiction and get away with using a different addictive substance is fooling themselves.
If they are successful at this kind of experiment, it is only because either:
A) They are not really addicted to any drugs or alcohol, or
B) They have not had enough time with the new substance for it to snowball into full blown addiction.
As they say “once an addict, always an addict.” I think that applies very well when we are talking about experimentation with other addictive substances.
My recommendation for you is to avoid addictive drugs and alcohol and treat them all as if they were your drug of choice because, potentially, they all are.
There are also a few side groups out there that attempt to teach moderation to alcoholics, to teach them how to drink successfully again. I have no direct experience with such groups but I do know that there have been some pretty big examples of failure among their more prominent members, giving some weight to the argument that maybe moderation really isn’t possible for true alcoholics and addicts.