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Can People in Opioid Recovery Drink Socially?

Updated: Dec 20, 2019

When someone goes through opioid addiction treatment and is in recovery, there is a stage of assimilating back into society that leads some to a crossroads that may determine if they sustain their sobriety. Socially enjoying alcohol is something deeply engrained in cultures around the world, sometimes making it difficult for those with any substance use disorder to feel like they can truly fit in with everyone else. There are various schools of thought on this facet of addiction that have been presented by experts, and ultimately the answer lies within each individual and their commitment to recovery.

New School vs. Old School Ideologies

The idea of “once an addict, always an addict” splits many experts and those in recovery on the issue of whether addiction should be part of someone’s identity. Those who subscribe to the older ideologies on addiction feel that those who are in recovery from any medication or substance should continue to actively participate in a program of recovery to maintain their long-term sobriety. They also warn that someone who has dealt with addiction previously is more prone to “cross-addiction” or replacing one addiction with another, for instance opioids for alcohol or other behaviors such as gambling or sex. This school of thought maintains that a person must not use any substance or medication that changes the way that they feel because it will often, if not always, lead to use of the original drug of choice.

Those who align with newer principles on addiction feel that it’s not so black and white. People who have substance use disorder are not driven only by their behaviors entirely and that the way drugs affect the brain makes things much more complex prior to recovery. They believe that through proper medical and behavioral treatment, those who have previously battled substance misuse and addiction can eventually grow past their illness and that the effects are not always permanent and that placing the title of “addict” on someone for life can be stigmatizing or have other negative consequences.

Recovery Risk Assessment

Regardless of which school of thought someone falls into, considering social drinking while in opioid addiction recovery can bring along risks for those whose past substance misuse may suggest a pattern. People who feel that drinking can help ease their social anxiety or help them “open up” to others are at a higher risk of developing issues with alcohol because it’s being used as a coping mechanism for an underlying problem. This can lead to a relapse, or repeated pattern of misusing substances as a way to avoid dealing with emotions and feelings.

In addition to problematic alcohol misuse, it’s not uncommon for people who succumb to opioid cravings and relapse on opioids as a result of drinking. Being under the influence can severely alter one’s decision making and impulse control, potentially quickly leading them down a dark and all-too-familiar path. This leads everyone in recovery to reexamine whether the idea of social drinking is worth risking their hard work and dedication to overcome opioid use disorder.

Because alcohol is societally acceptable and typically consumed without stigma, people in recovery are bound to come across situations where they feel they need to reassess their commitment to sobriety. While everyone’s journey is different, honest and self-awareness are incredibly crucial to realizing whether missteps are preventable or calculated. Substance use counselors and support systems are a vital part of this decision-making process, helping those with opioid use disorder understand what is most important in their lives.

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