Alcohol and drugs both have addictive properties, which makes alcohol use tricky for someone who is recovering from a drug use disorder.
The main concerns caused by drinking alcohol in recovery are the reduced inhibitions caused by alcohol consumption, the mental health implications of alcohol use, and the risk of cross-addiction.
Many addiction recovery programs advocate for abstinence from all mood-altering substances, including alcohol, to ensure the best outcomes for people who are in treatment for drug abuse.
What Is Cross-Addiction?
Cross-addiction refers to the phenomenon where an individual, already in recovery from one addiction, develops a new addiction to a different substance or behavior.
For example, someone recovering from an opioid addiction might develop a new addiction to gambling, shopping, or food.
People with a history of addiction may have underlying vulnerabilities such as genetic predispositions or mental health issues that make them more likely to develop addictive behaviors.
Similarly, some people, when faced with stress, emotional distress, or triggers associated with their original addiction, may turn to a different substance or behavior as a way to cope.
Using alcohol during drug addiction recovery can increase the risk of cross-addiction, potentially causing you to switch your prior addiction for alcohol. This can undermine your efforts to maintain sobriety.
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The Neurological Impact Of Alcohol
Alcohol has many neurological effects, impacting various structures and functions within the brain.
While moderate alcohol consumption may not result in significant neurological harm, heavy or chronic alcohol use poses substantial risks to brain health.
Central Nervous System Depression
Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, which slows down the activity of the brain. This results in a range of effects from mild sedation to impaired function.
Alcohol increases the release of dopamine in the brain. This is associated with the pleasurable feelings and reinforcing effects of alcohol consumption, contributing to the development of addiction.
Impact on Brain Structure
Chronic alcohol abuse may result in the shrinking of brain tissue, particularly in areas associated with memory, learning, and emotional regulation.
Cerebral Cortex Impairment
The cerebral cortex, responsible for higher cognitive functions such as decision-making and impulse control, is sensitive to the effects of alcohol.
Impairment in this area can lead to poor judgment and increase the likelihood that a person in recovery relapses.
The Connection Between Alcohol Use And Relapse
People with a history of substance abuse who drink alcohol may be at higher risk of relapse.
This heightened risk is due to the association between different addictive substances, where the use of one, such as alcohol, can act as a trigger for use of previously abused substances.
The neurobiological pathways activated by alcohol may closely resemble those associated with the individual’s prior substance of abuse, rekindling cravings.
Similarly, the psychological and emotional factors associated with alcohol use amplify the complexity of sustaining recovery efforts.
Even in situations where a person is doing well in recovery, alcohol can lower inhibitions and impair judgment, leading them to engage in impulsive behaviors they might otherwise avoid.
This lowered inhibition can increase the likelihood of relapse into drug use.
The Impact Of Drinking On Mental Health
Drinking alcohol can have an impact on mental health, influencing both short-term and long-term wellbeing.
Alcohol has been linked to many mental health issues, including:
- depression and anxiety
- impaired cognitive function
- sleep disturbances
- increased risk of suicidal thoughts
- aggression and irritability
- worsening of existing mental health conditions
- alcohol-induced psychotic disorders
- increased risk of substance use disorders
- impact on stress response
- social isolation
To mitigate the connection between alcohol use and mental health issues, people in recovery are often advised to practice abstinence from all mood-altering substances.
This approach helps minimize the risks and ensures a more stable path to recovery.
The Social And Legal Consequences Of Substance Abuse
Substance use can lead to a range of social and legal consequences that impact people, families, and communities.
Some common social and legal consequences associated with substance use include:
- relationship strain with family, friends, and colleagues
- social isolation
- employment issues
- financial strain including debt, bankruptcy, and the depletion of savings
- stigma and discrimination
- parental challenges including child custody, visitation rights, and involvement with cps
- loss of trust in relationships
- criminal charges
- DUI/DWI offenses
- probation and parole
Understanding the potential social and legal consequences of substance use can help people make informed decisions about their lives.
Seeking help through rehabilitation programs, counseling, and support groups can also help address substance use issues and avoid these consequences.
Why Abstinence Matters For Recovery
Abstinence from all problematic substances is the most effective way to prevent relapse.
For people recovering from addiction, even small amounts of an addictive substance can trigger cravings and reignite the cycle of dependency.
Continuous abstinence, however, breaks the cycle of addiction by allowing the brain and body to heal.
Over time, the brain’s neurochemistry stabilizes, reducing the intense cravings and compulsions associated with active addiction.
As a person remains abstinent, they experience improved cognitive function and mental clarity. This enduring sobriety enables them to think more clearly and make healthier choices.
Learn About Substance Abuse Treatment In Massachusetts
If you or a loved one is experiencing substance abuse in Massachusetts, treatment can help. Call our Bedrock Recovery Center specialists today to learn more.
- Alcohol And Drug Foundation (ADF) https://adf.org.au/reducing-risk/relapse/
- Mental Health Foundation https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/a-z-topics/alcohol-and-mental-health#:~:text=Alcohol%20affects%20the%20part%20of,anxiety%2C%20regardless%20of%20your%20mood
- National Library Of Medicine: PubMed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5844157/
- National Library Of Medicine: Bookshelf https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK551500/
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/alcohol-and-brain-overview#:~:text=Alcohol%20interferes%20with%20the%20brain's,injuries%20and%20other%20negative%20outcomes
- Recovery Research Institute https://www.recoveryanswers.org/research-post/how-does-drinking-alcohol-affect-recovery-from-another-drug-use-disorder/