Where to Draw the Line on Mind-Altering Substances? - Page 2

By Sarah Jones 05/07/13

Mouthwash and Sudafed, non-alcoholic beer and caffeine. What's cool for recovering addicts and alcoholics to eat, drink and take—and what's not?

How close are they? Photo via

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Coffee When ingested in excess, this stimulant can cause anxiety and insomnia. But it’s also so, so amazing. Many recovering alcoholics depend upon it as their lifeblood. Says Seth, “I literally never wanted a cup of coffee until I started drinking alcoholically. When I got hangovers, coffee was my poorman's speedball.” Dr. Peter R. Martin, director of Vanderbilt University’s Addiction Center, conducted a 2008 study which found that 88.5% of recovering alcoholics drink coffee regularly, compared to 57% of the general population.

But he says it’s not the caffeine alone that should be considered. “Coffee is much more complex than caffeine. We don’t think it’s the caffeine necessarily that helps people stay sober. Chlorogenic acids, a large number of biologically active compounds in coffee, can act on the opioid receptors in much the same way as Naltrexone,” a drug prescribed to manage alcohol consumption and marketed under the names Revia, Depade, Relistor and Vivitrol. “We wonder, based on our findings, whether coffee could actually reduce the rate of relapse for alcoholics in recovery,” says Martin. Hooray! Drink up!

The problem with many herbal supplements is that they work so well because they contain a buttload of alcohol.

Can it get you twisted? Yes, but not in a bad way! All jokes aside, if you’re obsessing about coffee in the way that you would drugs or alcohol, it’s probably bad for business. According to Dr. Levounis, “Coffee is a mind-altering drug, but, pharmacologically speaking, it’s certainly in a different class and will not trigger you to go back to drinking. The same is true of nicotine.”

Energy drinks This $10-billion-a-year industry includes 5-hour Energy, Rockstar, Red Bull, and Monster. Depending on the drink, these are packed with stuff like B vitamins, amino acids (such as taurine), tons of sugar—and three times the caffeine as soda. They have been linked to addiction and seizures due to the crash that comes after downing a few in quick succession.

Can they get you twisted? Probably not if you drink one every once in a while—but they can be dangerous in large quantities, and some countries don’t even allow them to be sold to minors. For a disturbing documentary about energy-drink addiction, check this out.

Cigarettes Nicotine is totally addictive and cigarettes can cause strokes, heart attacks, several types of cancer, and other diseases. But, says former smoker Sean, “Cigarettes helped me initially get sober because I had something else to turn to and do” other than drink.

Can they get you twisted? Maybe. Sean says, “I radically separated my alcohol and nicotine addictions. When I quit, I used the spiritual tools I learned in AA, but I didn’t feel like my nicotine addiction was compromising my sobriety.”



There are many herbal supplements that can alter your mood and mind like kava, maca, passionflower, valerian root and Rescue Remedy. The problem with many of these is that they work so well because they contain a buttload of alcohol. Alcohol-free versions are available, but, according to Dr. Levounis, “The research is quite scanty, but some caution should be observed.”

Can they get you twisted? Probably. Kelly says, “I am the kind of recovering drunk that is okay with having beer in the fridge and whiskey in the freezer, but cannot deal with the following: vanilla extract, Rescue Remedy, mouthwash, NyQuil or Tylenol PM. There is too much wiggle room for justifying overuse in those for me.”



Things containing alcohol like facial toner and hand sanitizer can be triggers for recovering alcoholics, as can items that can be abused, like canned air, which is used to clean keyboards or electronic devices. (Remember Allison the Huffer from Intervention?) Jess says, “I used to huff [canned air] when I was first starting to use drugs and I became obsessed with it. It was so cheap. I’d just huff it throughout the day. When I see it now, this little voice says, ‘It’s not a drink...’ I don’t worry about it today, but it just proves how insidious this disease is.”

Meanwhile, Carl notes that he “had isopropyl alcohol for disinfecting and I started getting the crazies. I just dumped it out without thinking twice about it. I used to think people who wouldn't use alcoholic mouthwash were draconian but I totally get it now. My disease would want me to go out on fucking rubbing alcohol.”

Can they get you twisted? You’d need to drink a lot of mouthwash to get a buzz, but it could make you have a craving. According to Dr. Martin: “Alcoholics should consult their doctors, but in general, they need to be very careful with altering the way they feel with medications and external agents that change the way the brain functions because it might increase the possibility that they relapse.” 

Sarah Jones is a pseudonym.

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