Dangers of Drinking While Quitting Drugs

When you are in rehab for drug addiction, you might think that quitting drugs while still drinking is the lesser of two evils during recovery. Many people believe that drinking alcohol is a safer alternative to doing drugs. You might rationalize using alcohol while quitting drugs if you are unaware of the dangers of drinking while quitting drugs.

Are Drug and Alcohol Use Disorders Related?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “Research shows that people who are dependent on alcohol are much more likely than the general population to use drugs, and people with drug dependence are much more likely to drink alcohol.”

The NIAAA further explains that “People who are dependent on drugs are more likely to have an alcohol use disorder than people with alcoholism are to have a drug use disorder.” 

The NIAAA adds that from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) survey:

  • 8.5% of the US population meets the criteria for alcohol use disorder
  • 2.0% for drug use disorder
  • 1.1% for both alcohol use disorder and drug use disorder

If you are quitting drugs but drinking, you are more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder as a result. While alcohol is legal and commonly used by people from all walks of life, drinking is still dangerous. In fact, alcohol is “the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States.”

Drinking is not a safe alternative to drug use. If you struggle with drug addiction, you might substitute one type of substance use disorder for another if you drink alcohol while quitting drugs.

The Nature of Addiction to Drugs and Alcohol

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that “[m]ost drugs affect the brain’s ‘reward circuit,’ causing euphoria as well as flooding it with the chemical messenger dopamine.” Similarly, “alcohol intoxication can alter the delicate balance among different types of neurotransmitter chemicals,” according to the NIAAA.

Addiction to drugs and alcohol are similar as far as your brain is concerned. While you might feel a different “high” on drugs compared to alcohol, your brain gets a reward from both of these substances, which can lead to addiction. 

The nature of addiction works the same no matter what substance you use. Research shows that even smoking cigarettes can increase the likelihood of relapsing while in recovery from drug addiction. 

The Causes of Addiction and Substance Use Disorders

Not everyone who uses drugs, alcohol, and other substances will become addicted. If you have been addicted to one substance in the past, you are more likely to get addicted to other substances. The causes of addiction do not necessarily go away when you trade one substance for another. 

According to MedlinePlus, you might be vulnerable to addiction for several reasons, some of which include:

  • Biology and genetics: You might react more strongly to substances and alcohol than other people because of biological characteristics unique to you. Quitting drugs will not change your biology and genetics!
  • Mental health issues: If you have an underlying mental health condition, like depression, anxiety, trauma, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you are more likely to get addicted. Drug and alcohol use might become a maladaptive coping mechanism known as “self-medicating.”
  • Problems at home: Issues at home when you were growing up or current problems in your family life make you more susceptible to addiction. If you grew up in a disruptive home with a parent struggling with addiction, you also have a genetic component making you vulnerable in addition to a difficult childhood.
  • Problems socializing: People who struggle to fit in might give in to peer pressure to use drugs or alcohol to make friends.

When you stop using drugs, these causes don’t go away. If you don’t address these issues while in rehab, you are more likely to relapse after treatment. Due to the damage that addiction causes to your brain, you need to be substance-free to recover from the underlying causes of addiction.

How Does Drug and Alcohol Addiction Damage the Brain?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that “repeated use of drugs can damage the essential decision-making center at the front of the brain.”

Your brain needs to heal during your drug addiction treatment. Otherwise, you can further damage the decision-making part of your brain, known as the prefrontal cortex. Both alcohol and drugs can damage this part of the brain. When you drink while quitting drugs, you continue the damage.

Alcohol can further impair your decision-making, which leads to making poor choices, including drug use. Quitting all substances during recovery gives you the best chance for success and lowers your risk of relapse or developing another substance use disorder.

Quitting Drugs in Palm Springs

Quitting drugs and kicking an addiction is tough. When you commit to your recovery, it is best to give up both drugs and alcohol to heal properly. With the right treatment and support, you can heal from your drug addiction. California Behavioral Health offers empowering treatment options for you or a loved one to reclaim the life you were meant to live.


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