Can You Be in Recovery Without Giving Up Alcohol?
Recovery is a delicate period of transition, and the process of becoming clean of drugs can pose many struggles, stumbling blocks and challenges that are unique to every individual. Because addiction is such a highly individualistic experience, no single script or process works perfectly for every person.
One of the ways in which approaches differ is the way a person in recovery approaches alcohol. Some find the greatest success through total abstinence from all substances; others seem able to drink occasionally or enjoy a night out without trouble. Is recovery from drug addiction without giving up alcohol really possible? The better question is whether that choice is best for your specific situation.
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Addiction vs Dependency
Some people who enter drug rehab do so because they have developed a chemical dependency on a particular substance. For example, a prescription opioid user who becomes reliant on these drugs may develop a heroin habit to satisfy his cravings, but he may have no interest in other substances and no emotional reliance on the drug. Once he has gone through the initial recovery period and learned to live without the drug, he may never develop an addiction to any other substance.
This happens because the brain can become dependent on certain drugs after repeated exposure. If you take opioids, for example, your body may stop producing certain vital hormones on its own, leading to withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings. Recovery gives your body time to heal and regulate its neurotransmitter levels. For some people with substance dependency, this is enough to get clean and stay that way.
Addiction is a different problem. Although many addicts also develop chemical dependency to one or more substances, there is an underlying psychological issue that's deeply rooted in an individual's brain chemistry. Addiction happens when the reward system of your brain is "re-wired," causing habits to become compulsions.
This is why some people are said to have "addictive personalities." They may develop addictions to multiple habits or substances. For these people, staying clean is not just an issue of recovering from drug dependency but also of avoiding other temptations.
Not everyone who develops an addiction to one substance will become addicted to a different drug in the future. However, the risk is always there, especially in the case of substances that are known to cause dependency in users.
Why Drug Recovery Without Giving Up Alcohol May Be a Bad Idea
If you have a substance abuse problem, it may seem daunting to tackle a lifetime of sobriety. While you may not need to stay away from alcohol forever, it's generally a good idea to avoid temptation while you recover from your addiction. There are several reasons for this:
- You may find yourself substituting one addiction for another. People sometimes lean on substances as an emotional crutch or social lubricant. If you fill the void of one drug by substituting another, you will never truly break free of addiction.
- Alcohol lowers inhibitions. This can make it more difficult to fight cravings for other substances, especially if you're drinking socially in an environment where other drugs are available.
- Alcohol raises the risk of overdose and death, especially when mixed with opioids or benzodiazepines. Overdose-related deaths are more common during drug relapse due to a body's lower tolerance; combining relapse with alcohol has an even deadlier effect.
For many people, recovery from drug addiction poses an opportunity to live an entirely sober life free of any mind-altering substances. For others, it may still be possible to drink responsibly without triggering a relapse or developing a new addiction. In either case, however, the initial focus should be on recovery and total abstinence until you have a better understanding of your addiction and your needs.
Addiction treatment incorporates therapy and exercises in self-awareness and the creation of positive habits. It is vital to be honest with yourself during this process and put in the work to stay clean. You may find that, after you've begun to make changes to your life, you no longer feel a desire to drink or use any substance. This is ultimately a personal discovery that is best explored with your therapist.
If you are currently struggling with substance abuse or need help with managing an addiction, SpringBoard Recovery can help. Contact us today to learn more about our detox and intensive outpatient therapy options.