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Can a Drug Addict Drink Alcohol if They Are in Recovery?

At Legacy Healing Center, we understand that recovery from drug addiction can be a challenging and ongoing process. One question that often arises is, “Can a drug addict drink alcohol if they are in recovery?”

Alcohol is a legal substance commonly consumed by adults. However, for individuals in recovery from drug addiction, alcohol use can be a trigger for relapse. This is because alcohol is a psychoactive substance that affects the brain in similar ways to drugs.

Consuming alcohol can activate the reward pathways in the brain and create cravings for other substances. Additionally, alcohol can impair judgment and decision-making, which can lead to risky behaviors and increased vulnerability to relapse.

Further, alcohol is one of the most addictive substances on the planet. Someone who has struggled with a past substance use disorder may be more susceptible to developing an alcohol addiction.

For all these reasons, there is widespread agreement in the treatment community that those in recovery should avoid all mind-altering substances like alcohol. However, many in recovery from a drug addiction do still drink.

Personal Factors Influencing Whether Recovering Drug Addicts Should Drink

While alcohol use can be problematic for many individuals in recovery, it is important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The decision to drink alcohol is a personal one that should be made based on individual circumstances and factors.

For some individuals in recovery, the temptation to drink may be too great, and abstinence from alcohol may be necessary. For others, however, it may be possible to consume alcohol in moderation without triggering cravings or risking relapse.

It is important to speak with a healthcare professional to determine whether alcohol use is safe and appropriate for an individual in recovery.

Can Alcohol Trigger Relapse?

Drunk and sad-looking man holds glass of whiskey

Alcohol can trigger relapse in several different ways. Specifically, it:

  • Reduces your judgment: Alcohol negatively impacts your ability to make sound judgments, increasing the chances that a recovering drug user will use again.
  • Changes how you view consequences: Alcohol skews the way you view the consequences of your actions, including using drugs, and causes you to greatly diminish them.
  • Lowers inhibitions: Someone who would not otherwise misuse drugs is more likely to do so when under the influence of alcohol.
  • Changes your perception: Alcohol can cause confusion and a misunderstanding of what is really going on. For example, while drunk, someone may accept what they think is a cigarette but is actually a marijuana joint.
  • Creates cravings for other drugs: Alcohol use can activate the reward centers in the brain that also respond to other drugs, triggering cravings that motivate relapse.
  • Puts individuals in tempting situations: Drinking often occurs in other environments, such as bars, clubs, and concerts where there is other drug use going on. Just being around temptations makes relapse more likely.

Alternatives to Drinking Alcohol for Recovering Drug Addicts

Woman crosses hands to refuse a glass of red wine

If a recovering drug addict does not find alternatives to alcohol, they are much more likely to misuse alcohol and, therefore, experience drug relapse.

Luckily, there are many alternatives to drinking alcohol and ways to avoid it in recovery, including:

  • Socialize with sober friends and build a network of individuals committed to a sober lifestyle.
  • If you must be in a situation where alcohol is present, tell someone you trust that you would like to avoid drinking. That way, they can help keep you accountable.
  • Look for alternatives to alcohol, like mocktails or non-alcoholic beers and wines.
  • Seek out professional help from a therapist or addiction specialist who can help create or modify a relapse prevention plan that accounts for alcohol.
  • Attend and actively participate in support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
  • Learn and practice relaxation and stress management techniques, like deep breathing and meditation, so you can better cope with alcohol cravings.
  • Ask yourself why you are craving a drink. Is it stress? Boredom? Sadness? Once you understand your triggers, you can use your coping skills to reduce the urge to drink.

Strategies for the Safe Use of Alcohol for Recovering Drug Addicts

Glasses with cocktails come together in a cheers moment

For individuals in recovery who choose to consume alcohol, it is important to do so safely and responsibly. This may include setting limits on the amount and frequency of alcohol consumption, avoiding situations where alcohol is the focus of the activity, and being mindful of one’s mental and emotional state when consuming alcohol.

It is also important to have a support system in place, such as a sponsor or healthcare professional, who can provide guidance and accountability for safe alcohol use. By taking these precautions, individuals in recovery may be able to safely and responsibly consume alcohol without triggering cravings or high-risk situations for relapse.

However, by far the safest way for recovering drug addicts to use alcohol is to not use it at all. The vast majority of treatment professionals strongly advise anyone in recovery to avoid all mind-altering substances.

Making Informed Decisions About Alcohol Use in Recovery from Drugs

Now that you have a clearer sense of whether drug addicts can drink alcohol, it’s time to decide what’s best for your health and recovery.

If you are focused on maintaining your sobriety, Legacy Healing Center is here for you. Our outpatient programs are designed to help recovering addicts stay on track while offering flexibility to meet other daily obligations.

At Legacy, we understand that recovery from addiction is a complex and ongoing process. That’s why we offer a range of evidence-based therapies and services to help individuals in recovery build the skills and resilience needed to maintain sobriety and build a fulfilling life. Our compassionate and experienced staff are committed to supporting you every step of the way.

Call 888-534-2295 to learn how we can help you on your path to life-long recovery.

Can a Drug Addict Drink Alcohol if They Are in Recovery? FAQs

Is there a clear link between alcohol use and relapse in drug addicts?

Yes, there is a link between alcohol use and relapse in drug addicts. Alcohol use can impair judgment, change how individuals view consequences, lower inhibitions, change an individual’s perceptions, create cravings for substance abuse, and put individuals in situations that tempt them to use.

What factors should recovering addicts consider before making a decision about alcohol?

It is generally advised that recovering addicts avoid alcohol entirely. If you are still considering it, consider the following factors when making your decision:

  • Your history with drug/alcohol misuse
  • Your treatment and relapse prevention plans
  • Long-term goals in recovery
  • The risks of alcohol consumption, misuse, and potential relapse
  • Your available support system
  • Your mental and emotional health
  • Potential legal consequences

Are there any alternative ways to cope with cravings or social pressures to drink?

There are numerous alternative ways to cope with cravings or social pressures to drink:

  • Have a detailed plan for how to handle cravings or social situations where drinking will be involved.
  • Reach out to a sober friend or sponsor for support.
  • Practice mindfulness techniques like deep breathing and meditation.
  • Engage in physical activities like jogging, walking, or playing sports.
  • Attend and actively participate in support meetings.
  • Bring or request non-alcoholic alternatives to have a drink in hand.
  • Plan exit strategies and implement them if needed.
  • Practice assertiveness skills to confidently decline offers to drink.
  • Remind yourself of your personal goals and reflect on them.
  • Surround yourself with supportive and understanding individuals.
  • Seek professional guidance if necessary.
  • Educate friends and family about your decision to stay sober.

What resources are available for recovering addicts who struggle with alcohol cravings?

There are numerous resources available for recovering addicts who struggle with alcohol cravings:

  • Support groups: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), SMART Recovery
  • Counseling and therapy
  • Inpatient and outpatient rehab programs
  • Aftercare programs
  • Helplines and hotlines, like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) National Helpline (1-800-662-HELP)
  • Online platforms and mobile apps: Sober Grind, In The Rooms, Sober Time, I Am Sober, Nomo
  • Self-help books and resources: “The Big Book” (AA Literature), “This Naked Mind” by Annie Grace, “Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy” by David Sheff
  • Local organizations: Community centers, religious organizations, clubs, religious organizations

Is it OK for recovering addicts to participate in social events with alcohol?

Yes, it is OK for recovery addicts to participate in social events with alcohol, as long as they are comfortable in their sobriety and confident in their ability to resist triggers and temptations.

The unfortunate truth is that it is very difficult to go through life and totally avoid social events where alcohol is involved, especially in the U.S. If someone in recovery must attend social events with alcohol, it is critical that they have an exit strategy and, if necessary, take advantage of it.

Sources

  1. Healthline. (n.d.). The 4 Stages of Alcohol Recovery: A Path to Healing.
  2. SMART Recovery. (n.d.). Home page.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Treatment and Recovery.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Alcohol and Other Substance Use.
  5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2023). Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs.
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About the Author

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Jeffrey Juergens

Jeff Juergens is a leading author in the addiction and recovery field, dedicating the last seven years of his life to helping those struggling with substance use issues find the help that they need. Jeff's work has been used in rehabs across the country as tools to help patients achieve sobriety.

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Dr. Edwin Gomez, M.D.

Edwin Gomez, M.D. joined the Legacy Healing Centers Medical Team in 2021. In addition to working at Legacy Healing Centers, Dr. Gomez operates a private practice and research here in the South Florida Area and the Florida Keys. Prior to joining Legacy Healing Center, he served as Medical Dire...