Ask an Expert:Should I Try To Use Socially?

By The Fix staff 01/12/15
Today's question is on if or when it's OK to try and become a moderate user after recovery.

My name is Frank & I feel that I am at a crossroads in my recovery. I have been clean & sober through AA/NA for just a hair over 4 & 1/2 years. I have worked the steps twice, I have had the same sponsor the entire time and I have sponsored others. The ways that my life has changed have truly been immeasurable and I don't want to be wasted again. 

I used alcohol destructively and I had a strong bout of troubles with all other drugs, except hallucinogenics, which I always found to be helpful. The last 3 years of my "using", I was physically addicted to heroin. It went from smoking to snorting and in the final year before I got clean I was injecting it. It was hell to get clean. I was medically detoxed and relapsed immediately for 6 months then I got clean on my own using suboxone. I have been 100% drug free since my clean date including from suboxone. I have battled with smoking cigarettes on & off since then and have happily drunk coffee daily. 

The crossroads part has been very recent. I have never loved meetings & honestly have never attended regularly. I am also not convinced that addiction is a disease and hate thinking of myself as having a disease. I am also unsure if I am truly powerless since I found so much power in stopping. I don't think (I am open to many things so this is an open ended subject for me) I believe in a higher power & I am a non-theist. I do believe in the subconscious. These things rub  me the wrong way in AA/NA & I am at the point today of speaking with my sponsor about it. 

The most surprising thing that I learned about myself getting clean was recognizing & admitting how much pain & how hurt & damaged I felt from my abusive childhood. I've done some ACA as well and really like it, although, again, I dislike the disease-model idea but that work is valuable enough for me to want to at least work the steps once in ACA. It's hard for me to believe that my relationships with drugs & alcohol isn't different now that I'm so different. Just the fact that I'm looking at it in this way versus "relapsing" is really an answer I think. 

I am thinking of experimenting with drinking and some drugs to see where I'm at with them. I don't want to be wasted but if I could drink socially and use marijuana and hallucinogenics successfully, I couldn't imagine why I wouldn't. Have you encountered someone that was a hard-core drug user that can then successfully use anything? l'm not running out & using but I'm very curious. There is nothing that could make me give up the strength & clarity I've found & I want to remain sober in the sense of staying true, clear, and on a path I'm proud of. Thank you for your time.

Stanton Peele: Let me answer your question about becoming a moderate drinker and marijuana user in five parts, if I may:

(1) I never tell anyone they can or cannot use substances moderately.  I cannot make that determination for you, or for anyone.

(2) Having said that, I respect your desire to try to moderate your substance use. People do it all the time, and your logic that you feel differently about yourself and your life are good grounds for contemplating this choice.

(3) Obviously, you are thinking about the milder end of your substance use panoply - the alcohol/marijuana/hallucinogenic part, as opposed to the heroin part. But you haven't made clear rules and limits about what you are prepared to use, how often, and how much. You should think these parameters through and write them down and share them with friends and family.  You might then review them regularly (starting with weekly) with a therapist, friend, or family member, in order to be objectively clear whether you are working within these parameters or not.

(4)  If you are serious with yourself, with me, and with heaven above (whoops, that's not your bag) you WILL be sensitive to your success and failure at sticking to your plan. I don't accept denial, and - before you start this experiment - make clear to yourself and others that you don't either. The fact that you weren't explicit in your definition of moderation IS a counter-indicator of success, since you are not anchoring your change to clearly defined standards. Are you serious about this business, or are you crapping around?  I don't like it when people crap around with me.

(5)  An experiment is an experiment, and it implies that you can simply revert to abstinence should your experimentation fail. And you can - NOTHING stops you from doing this. Please make this clear to yourself, to those you discuss your plan with, and to anyone reading your question and my answer. Repeat after me: "I can, and will, revert to abstinence should I fail to meet the limits I have set for myself, so help me Stanton."  If you don't succeed, that you recognize and amend your plan is a sign of integrity and honor, and not something to be ashamed of.

You've respected me enough to ask me this sensitive question. Please respect me - and yourself - enough to be honor bound and committed to measuring your progress, involving others in assessing this progress, and acting with authenticity and integrity in responding to this objective feedback.

Write us about the results of your experiment.



Stanton Peele, PhD and attorney, is an innovator in the field of addiction, beginning with his breakthrough 1975 book, Love and Addiction (written with Archie Brodsky) and followed by 11 others, most recentlyRecover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict. He has created his own rehab program (The Life Process Program) for individual substance abusers. See and his Facebook and Twitter.    Full Bio.

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