Why is Alcohol a Drug?

In Narcotics Anonymous and other 12 step programs recovery is usually defined as complete abstinence from all mood and mind altering drugs. This includes the legal drug, alcohol. I have heard this questioned and debated many times and want to suggest some good reasons why Alcohol is a drug.

My personal experience is that Alcohol was a part of my using almost always. Although it was not my “Drug of Choice” I drank daily, and to excess. I did not admit that at first, but if I am honest with myself I know this to be true, for me. When I was first in treatment I insisted that my goal was not to give up drinking, or even smoking marijuana for that matter. I just wanted to quit Cocaine, which I didn’t really consider my drug of choice but rather the drug that was kicking my ass on a regular basis. They doctor asked me “Phil, if your life depended on it, could you abstain from all mood and mind altering drugs”? I replied that of course, if my life depended on it I could. Then they set about the business of convincing me that my life did depend on it.

The disease concept was one of the things they set out to educate me about. The disease concept, as I understand it suggests that addiction is an incurable and fatal disease that while incurable can be treated and put into remission by abstinence from mood and mind altering drugs. Further, it suggests that the remission can be broken by any drug, not just the former drug of choice, and not even a drug that the person has ever done before. In other words, if someone has never had a drink of alcohol, but is in recovery for some other drug use, their addiction can be awakened by a drink, and not only awakened, but awakened at the place it would have progressed to had the person been active the entire time. I know some don’t believe in the disease concept, but in my 16 plus years in the rooms of 12 step fellowships I have seen it happen enough that I believe it.

I know that some people seem to be able to go from drug addiction and somehow stop using the illegal drugs and manage to drink in a “responsible” manner. I won’t argue that its possible. Here is my concern: it cuts people off from the support of the 12 step fellowships, or if they continue to go, it puts them in a position to be dishonest. See even though some 12 step fellowships don’t expressly forbid anything other than their namesake (in other words technically you could go to AA, get years of sobriety while continuing to use marijuana) most of the “winners” in the program would tell you that you don’t have any sobriety without total abstinence. NA is 100 percent clear on this. There is no room in NA for someone who abstains from “narcotics” but drinks.

Big deal you say? Well, imagine this situation if you will. Let’s say you go to the program to deal with a cocaine problem. You are welcomed into AA, get a sponsor, attend meetings and work some steps. Lo and behold you put a few 24 hours together and declare yourself “Clean and Sober” to the world. In this example imagine that you are a published author and well known motivational speaker. As time goes on you decide that a drink sounds like a good idea, and you try it out and find that you can control it. What do you do when people ask you about your recovery? Well since you had a Cocaine problem, and you are still clean from Cocaine, you hear yourself saying “I’m clean and sober now for X amount of time”. Problem is that’s not true. Are you just lying to them, or are you lying to yourself too?

Then lets say that you end up with a pain management issue with a back injury. If you were still all the way in the program you would have a support system that includes all the people you know in the rooms in addition to your sponsor and your sponsees… but wait, since you wanted to drink, you don’t have a sponsor, you are not sponsoring others, and your not attending meetings. You are essentially alone, with your addiction ready to kick in with the aid of prescription pain killers….

An addict alone is in poor company. Alcohol is a drug. We must abstain from all drugs in order to recover. My example is a true story. All I can do is pray for him.

I don’t wonder about whether or not I could “get away” with drinking. I’m not willing to gamble my life on it today. I would suggest to you that its not worth it.

Author: Trevor Roberts

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