Is Complete Abstinence from Use of Paychoactive Substances Necessary for Recovery?


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Can a sober alcoholic in recovery who has no history of abuse of marijuana, use marijuana without risk of relapse into alcohol use or of developing other problems. Can a heroin addict in recovery (abstinent from heroin use) who has no history of problems with use of alcohol, use alcohol without risk of relapse into heroin use or of developing other problems? The general rule in abstinence based treatment models in the U. S. , usually Twelve Step based programs, is that once an individual has developed an addiction to one class of substances, assuming the individual‘s goal is abstinence from use of that class of substance, that individual can no longer safely use any other drug (including alcohol), regardless of history of use of the other drug.

Here are some of the reasons for the position that complete abstinence from all psychoactive substances is necessary for recovery from addiction:

1. Use of any drug will result in impaired judgment (may lead back to drug of choice (DOC)).

2. Substitution—the person may develop a new addiction.

3. Use of any drug will have an adverse effect on already damaged neurotransmitter systems

in the reward pathway of the brain.

4. The resulting high from the new substance will not be the effect of the person’s DOC (not

the high desired)

5. Recovery is an all or nothing proposition; either you’re sober or clean or you’re not.

6. Use of the substance will undoubtedly occur in the company of “slippery” people and in

“slippery” places, causing cravings and possible relapse (“slippery” meaning dangerous to

abstinence or recovery).

7. Use will result in loss of 12 Step or other abstinence supports because the person will have

to lie, keep secret the drug use from 12 Step members. This is also dangerous because it

involves a return to old behaviors of dishonesty, etc.

8. Use will have an adverse effect on spirituality (addicts and alcoholics have made their

substances a Higher Power).

In addition to his law degree, Jan Edward Williams has a Master of Science degree in pastoral counseling, and is a licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselor. He has personal and professional experience to aid him in helping persons with alcohol and other drug problems. He is in recovery himself, with over 29 years of continuous sobriety, and has been working in the drug and alcohol field for 27 years. Recently Jan has developed an online drug and alcohol abuse counseling service, called AlcoholDrugSOS Services. This service is aimed at helping persons with drug abuse or addiction problems or alcohol abuse or addiction (alcoholism) problems. His web site is , and his e-mail is .


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