The winter holidays are over and most of my clients came through without relapse, but many of them didn’t come out unscathed. This is a hard time of year for most people, and going through it without one’s usual coping mechanisms is even harder. Although we aim for complete abstinence off all substances, many of my clients who are opiate addicts feel that drinking is okay for them, and many of them got drunk over New Year’s Eve especially because they wanted to have “fun”.
It’s difficult to convince a heroin addict that drinking is not a good idea either. Because many of them have not had trouble with alcohol, they assume it is fine to imbibe. However, alcohol still takes a toll on the body. There is brain damage and nerve damage going on. Also, a person who drinks is more likely to make some really stupid decisions like drinking and driving. Most fatal car accidents involve drinking as do most incidences of domestic violence. Because they are not slamming heroin, alcohol – being legal – seems to be a good alternative. But is it?
The question has to be asked if the addict is changing one substance for another. Dual addiction is very common, and using another substance is more likely to lead to relapse with a person’s drug of choice. When a couple of my opiate addicts admitted to getting drunk and telling me it was “awful!”, I applauded! They knew where I was coming from. I don’t enjoy my clients suffering. What I do enjoy is their learning experiences. If a hangover that lasts 2 days will help my client learn that drinking is a poor substitute for living, I applaud that! If taking even one Ecstasy pill and feeling guilty about blowing ones sobriety works, I applaud that as well. The majority of clients who didn’t stay completely abstinent said it wasn’t worth it. That is what I consider a success. Here’s hoping that all of you have a safe, sane and sober New Year!
Linda Magnelli is a counselor who works in Phoenix as a substance abuse and mental health counselor specializing in difficult cases.