Joanne asks: My sister has had problems with addiction on and off for about 5 years. She’s been to a couple of rehabs, and she has been clean now for about 6 months. We’re all very proud of her but we’re also worried. She was mostly using cocaine and pills, and because she wasn’t much of a drinker she now thinks it’s okay for her to drink socially since it wasn’t her “drug of choice.” Is it okay for a drug addict in recovery to drink?
This is a great question that many family members wonder about. The fact is that alcohol is a drug in liquid form. It is mind-altering and addictive, just like the cocaine and pills that she was using before. Even though she didn’t have a problem with alcohol when she was using those drugs, she could definitely develop a dependency on it now.
It’s important to understand that addiction isn’t really about the actual problematic substance or behaviour. What addiction is truly about is the underlying pain that people are unwilling to feel. When a person doesn’t want to have to deal with life on life’s terms, but would rather find a way to escape the pain or discomfort that unresolved emotional issues can bring, they will turn to substances and behaviours that will numb those difficult feelings. In a way, doing this is an unhealthy way of practicing self-care – people want to feel better so they find something that will help them forget about their pain. This desperate search to avoid facing reality can happen in a variety of ways, from mind-altering substances like drugs and alcohol to behaviours like eating disorders, compulsive overspending, gambling, and forms of internet addiction such as excessive gaming, watching porn or spending hours on social media.
If your sister is not yet willing to do the inner work it takes to become emotionally healthier and learn how to live life without the use of addictive behaviours, it is very possible that her “social drinking” will, in time, escalate into another full-blown addiction. And it is possible – and actually likely – that her increased use of alcohol will, over time, lead her back to the drugs she used before. Sustained recovery from addiction has its roots in abstinence from trying to escape from life’s obstacles and impediments. Even if there was no prior difficulty with alcohol while she was using other drugs, the choice to now substitute this mind-altering substance can easily become a slippery slope for her.