Thinking of alcohol as different from other drugs has caused a great many addicts to relapse. Before we came to N.A. many of us viewed alcohol separately, but we cannot afford to be confused about this. Alcohol is a drug. We are people with the disease of addiction who must abstain from all drugs in order to recover.
~ from the N.A. Recovery Text reproduced on-line at home.mchsi.com/~ciana/NA_Basic_Text_
A close friend of mine recently decided to drink again after more than a decade of being abstinent from all drugs. Art's justifications [not his real first name] for drinking were many and varied. At the top of the list was the disclaimer, "I never really had a problem with alcohol. I could take it or leave it." But marijuana, he told me, was an entirely different story. He had been unable to moderate his use of pot back in the days of active addiction. He decided three weeks ago to take up drinking again.
"How's that working for you?" I asked. [N.B. I did not ask with a snarky tone of voice]. "Great!" he replied. Art assured me that he was not overdoing the drinking, that so far he wasn't having a problem with it, that he was enjoying a social drink when out at the bar with a few buddies. He told me that "no one wants to hang out with" someone who doesn't drink. He said if he starts to develop a problem with alcohol, then he will "cut back."
Art was not asking for my help in this his latest endeavor. I had to accept that. In many ways, I would be the worst person for him to ask for assistance. We've known each other since high school days, although we ran in different crowds and consequently never used together.
There is a problem with thinking that an addict can return to using one drug safely, or can pick up a new drug and use that safely. What we do is what we become. If we've done it before, we will get in trouble with it again. If we haven't done it before, we will get in trouble with it for the first time.
"Trouble" does not necessarily indicate legal involvement or loss of income or relationships or stuff. Trouble at the most basic level indicates being in trouble with oneself. We can lie to others as much as we care to about anything. [Most of] us do not get away with lying to ourselves.
Alcohol is a drug. It is a chemical with a specific chemical formula. It is physically addictive. The addict who has never drank ought to endeavor to stay clear of alcohol. Similarly, the alcoholic who has never used marijuana [or another street drug] ought to strive to not go out and experiment.
A high percentage of people [90% is the commonly quoted number, but the number may actually be higher than that] are not addicts. They don't experience any consequences from social drinking or social drug-taking. That's great news!
A minority of people [10% is the commonly quoted number, but the number may actually be lower than that] cannot drink or use safely. Bad things happen to them and around them when they do. The addicts among us-- including those who are addicted to the drug alcohol-- may repeatedly endeavor to do it differently with or without excuses, justifications, or rationalization. And just because addicts [including this one] cannot use safely, it does not follow that no one should. I am not a prohibitionist.
To be honest, I also do not believe that addiction is a "disease." I understand the sort of thinking behind this claim but I do not agree with it. Labeling addiction, obesity, co-dependency, and other conditions as a "disease" is a legal and dimly medical argument to get insurance companies to pay for treatments. I think that there are some numbers of etiologies underneath addiction. I prefer to think of addictions as being conditions rather than disease entities.
I am vaguely aware that some work has been done [in Canada, after being run out of the United States] by the Sobels in re-educating known alcoholics to healthy patterns of drinking. I don't know enough about it to proffer an opinion about harm reduction in general. I do know enough to know that I am myself beyond the point of being able to return to social usage. My social use period was over with almost immediately after I first picked up. I almost died and I am not willing to risk my life or my health on something that might kill me this time.
I am an addict. I cannot control my usage once I've begun using. There are drugs out there today that were not out there when I was using-- crack, beer with lime flavoring, hard lemonade, certain "designer" drugs-- but the bottom line for this addict is that what I do is what I become. So I don't even flirt with the idea of trying them. The powerlessness over my addiction for me specifies that now that I am an addict, I personally cannot go back to a state of being a non-addict. I cannot use safely.
That is not to say that I am powerless over "everything." I certainly am not. I have a lot of personal power [N.B. power is not the same thing as control] and I intend to use it to my benefit and probably to the benefit of some other people around me. Systems-change work involves the use of personal power of many members of a community of activists and stakeholders in order to challenge an archaic system. I have hope today that justice can be had by people who have been and are being denied justice. I have hope today that a closed system which demands compliance in order not to suffer set consequences can be mediated to include the freedom of individuality and self-expression. I have hope today that we can create change. I've considered the possibilities and I have picked my battles. We need to change the systems that stifle us.
I wish the best for Art. I really do. I hope that his flirtation with drinking proves that he can drink safely or I hope that he is able to stop drinking [again] if he needs to. And I hope he does not return to street drugs or to the abuse of legally prescribed drugs. Meanwhile, I have some living to do.
Where's the coffee?