Playing Recovery Roulette

Every addict has his or her own drug of choice, even among those who have used multiple drugs during the course of their addiction.

Some, for example, prefer the “downers” like heroin, morphine, or tranquilizers. Others are primarily “upper” users of meth or cocaine. And then there are the “all arounders” – the hallucinogens like shrooms, peyote or LSD.

But that’s not to say that addictions don’t overlap; just ask the cocaine addict who habitually uses alcohol or marijuana to take the edge off the well-known paranoia that’s caused by freebasing or smoking crack. A common and very important question often asked by addicts in recovery is “If my drug of choice was (fill in the blank), can I use (fill in the blank again) since I wasn’t addicted to it?” As a drug counselor, I hear this question a lot. As a sober addict, I’ve asked it about myself, too. My answer is based upon the most current research in addiction recovery as well as my own personal experiences.

Playing Recovery Roulette – Using Substances that Weren’t Your Primary Addiction

If your drug of choice was a depressant like opiates, it’s dangerous for you to casually use another drug of the depressant class like alcohol. I’m often asked questions like “What harm will a few beers cause?” Before you play this kind of Recovery Roulette, consider the fact that central nervous system (CNS) depressants of all types have exactly the same effects on your body. They all cause a euphoric “high,” and they all result in decreased respiration and heart rates. They all lower your ability to concentrate, make decisions, and react to what’s going on around you. Your body will move and react more slowly, and your mind will work very sluggishly, causing you to make really bad decisions like having unprotected sex with strangers. Most importantly, all CNS depressant drugs have exactly the same addiction potential. This is why, for example, many addicts achieve abstinence from one drug, only to become addicted to another drug.

Cross Tolerance

The term “cross tolerance” is used to describe a situation like this: If your drug of choice is alcohol, your body becomes tolerant to that substance, thus making it gradually necessary to drink more and more to achieve the same level of intoxication. If you stop using alcohol and switch to a narc like morphine, your body really can’t tell the difference between these drugs and you’ll be just as tolerant to morphine as you are to alcohol – two drugs of the same CNS depressant class. The same situation holds true with CNS stimulant drugs; your tolerance to crack will equal your tolerance to meth. And the really bad news is that once you experience addiction to any drug, you’re more likely to develop addiction to another drug, even if it’s a drug of a different class. Ask anybody who’s had to deal with both narcs and meth.

Getting High is Getting High

Here’s my take on the emotional or psychological aspects of recovery from one substance and then using another addicting substance: Getting high is getting high, regardless of the chemical involved. This is the essence of Recovery Roulette, and I believe it’s foolish because it can push you right back into the deepest abyss of addiction. It’s simply a game that you can’t win. Having those few beers, smoking that occasional joint or huffing meth at a party is the result of the exact same mind-set as when you were using in a compulsive, addictive manner. Recreational, now-and-then use of a drug that wasn’t originally your drug of choice (called a “replacement drug”) will lead to not only addiction to that drug, but will also cause you to relapse back into use of your original drug. This may sound confusing, but if you’re an addict, you know exactly what I mean.

Now that you’re sober, stay sober. Don’t try to play Recovery Roulette with other drugs because the odds are always against you. You’ve already discovered that getting high is something you once enjoyed, both physically and psychologically. Just because you’re sober doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy it again, regardless the type of drug you use. The whole point of being sober is that you no longer use a substance to change your mood, right? Now that you’re sober, you can live your life in the present moment – exactly as you are right now. If the “escape clause” of using a substance to alter your physical and/or emotional state is simply no longer an option for you, then you can truly say that you’re successful in recovery.