Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sobriety, Cross-Addictions, and Relapse

When I was a teenager, I smoked weed. I also drank. In fact, if anybody had a drug to give me, I'd try it. So, I've done acid, mushrooms, cocaine, meth, and speed. I also smoked cigarettes.

I grew out of every substance but the booze. I never really was a big fan of anything that sped me up because I am anxious enough as it is. Pot stopped being fun because it ceased relaxing me and instead started making me paranoid. I ceased everything but drinking, and on my 30th birthday, I quit smoking. Nicotine was harder to kick, but after a few months I was fine; cravings subsided, and now it's been almost 19 years since I've had a cigarette.

Now for a while, back when I was bodybuilding in my early 40s, I did abuse painkillers (Vicodin), but not really for the buzz. I genuinely took them for pain--either to nurse a hangover or to get me through a workout. But it was getting expensive, so I stopped taking them. No problem. I had no physical addiction. I would take only one pill at a time; I say I abused them because I didn't have a prescription and bought them off a friend.

Looking back over this, it's weird to me that I tried all these substances and never had a problem with any of them EXCEPT for alcohol. That was the one thing I couldn't kick by myself.

This is on my mind because last night on Facebook I saw that an old friend of mine--an addict, not an alcoholic--had posted that she was out drinking. That, to me, is a relapse. But why? If someone offered me a bong hit and I took it, would that be a relapse for me?

I think it would.

Yet I take 30mgs of Cymbalta every morning and on some occasions, I'll take a half mg of Ativan (a benzo that is highly addictive). Why aren't these considered a relapse? Indeed, some people in AA would say I'm NOT clean and sober because of this.

But I differ there. Something like alcohol or weed impairs your judgement, alters your perceptions, makes you high. The anti-anxiety medication I'm on doesn't do any of these things. (Well, maybe they would if I took them in high doses, but I don't.) They are prescribed to me for a medical condition; my doctor knows I'm a recovering alcoholic; my doctor keeps an eye on how much of both I take. I have never abused either of them.

So, for my friend, the addict who is drinking, you might say alcohol is legal and as long as she isn't abusing it, then what's the problem? Well, the drug alcohol, even when used moderately, STILL impairs your judgment, alters your perception, and makes you high.

Look at it this way. If I were a surgeon and took a Cymbalta in the morning like I always do and then performed surgery on you, would you be concerned? Probably not. But if I were a surgeon and took a couple bong hits or had a few drinks before performing surgery on you, would you be comfortable with that? Yeah, I thought so.

That's the difference.

The problem with us alcoholics and addicts is that we use substances that make us high to cope, to "fix" problems in our lives or in ourselves, and those substances don't do any of that but merely make things worse. It's not okay to substitute one mind-altering substance for another.

That's a relapse.

One caveat: say you're an alcoholic and you break your leg and your doctor puts you on painkillers. Those things do alter your thinking. I wouldn't call that a relapse, though. But I'd say to be damned careful with those things. Once your physical pain is gone, don't go begging your doctor for a refill. And if your doctor doesn't know you're in recovery, you're keeping something important from her.

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