Some drugs have legitimate value and are beneficial when administered by knowledgeable physicians if used solely as directed, and discontinued when they are no longer a medical necessity.
As AA members—not physicians—we are certainly not qualified to recommend any medications. Nor are we qualified to advise anyone not to take a prescribed medication.
What we can do responsibly is to offer only our personal experience.
Drinking became, for many of us, a sort of self-medication. We often drank to feel better and to feel less sick.
And thousands of us used other chemicals, too. We discovered pep pills that seemed to counteract a hangover or relieve our depression (until they let us down, too), sedatives and tranquilizers that could substitute for the alcohol and calm our jitters, bromides and nonprescription pills and elixirs (many of them were called "nonaddictive" or "not habit-forming") that helped us sleep or gave us extra energy or loosened our inhibitions or floated us away on an exquisite surge of bliss.
Potentially, this strong desire, almost a need, for such psychoactive (mind-affecting) mood-changers can be embedded root-deep in anybody who is much of a drinker.
Even if, technically, in pharmacological terms, a drug is not a physiologically addictive one, we can easily get habituated to it and dependent on it, we have repeatedly found. It's as if "addiction proneness" was a condition inside us, not a quality of the drug itself. Some of us believe we have become "addictive" people, and our experience gives reinforcing support to that concept.
So we go to great lengths to avoid all street drugs—marijuana, "crank," "downers," "uppers," cocaine, "hash," hallucinogens, "speed" —and even many over-the-counter pills and nostrums, as well as tranquilizers.
Even to those of us who never got hooked on any of them, it is clear that they represent a real potential danger, for we have seen it demonstrated over and over and over again. Drugs will often reawaken the old craving for "oral magic," or some kind of high, or peace. And if we get by with using them once or twice, it oftens seems ever so much easier to pick up a drink.
[* See also Appendix—excerpt from AA Conference-approved pamphlet, "The AA Member—Medications and Other Drugs."]
The Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous is not an anti-drug or anti-marijuana lobby. As a whole, we take no moral or legal position either for or against grass or any other such substance. (Every member of AA., though, is entitled, like any other adult, to hold any opinion on these matters, and to take any action that seems right to him or to her.)
This is somewhat similar to AA members' position—or probably "non-position'' is more accurate—on booze and drinking. As a fellowship, we are not anti-alcohol or against drinking for the millions of people who can use it without causing any harm, either to themselves or to others.
Some (but not all) of us who have been sober a while are quite willing to serve drinks in our homes to our nonalcoholic guests. To drink or not is their right. Not to drink, or to drink if we choose, is equally our right, and we have no quarrel with what other people do. We have generally concluded, for ourselves only, that drinking is not good for us, and we have found ways of living without it which we much prefer to our drunken days.
Not all, but quite a few recovered alcoholics find that their body chemistry has become permanently tolerant to painkilling drugs, so they have to have extra large doses when an analgesic or anesthetic is required for medical purposes.
Some of us report adverse reactions to local anesthetics (such as Novocain) injected by a dentist. At the least, we leave the chair extremely nervous, and the condition may last quite a while, unless we can lie down a bit to let it wear off. (The company of another recovered alcoholic is soothing at such times.)
Other recovered alcoholics report no such adverse reactions. No one has any idea how to predict in which instances such reactions will occur. Anyhow, it is surely wise to tell our doctor, dentist, and hospital anesthesiologist the whole truth about our former drinking (and pill taking, if any), just as we make sure they know other facts about our health history.
The two following accounts seem to be typical of AA members' experiences with psychotropic (mind-affecting) drugs other than alcohol.
One of us, sober almost thirty years, decided he wanted to try pot, which he had never touched before. So he did. He enjoyed the effects and for months was able to use it on social occasions without any problem at all, he felt. Then someone said a small sip of wine made the effect even better, and he tried that, too, without even thinking about his bad history of alcoholism. After all, he was having only one sip of a very light wine.
Within a month, he was drinking heavily and realized he was again in the thrall of acute alcoholism.
We could put a hundred or so dittos under that tale, with only small modifications. It is a pleasure to report that this particular fellow sobered up, also gave up the weed, and has now been totally pot- and booze-free for two years. He is again a happy, active sober alcoholic, enjoying his AA life.
Not all who have similarly experimented with marijuana have made it back into sobriety. For some of these AA members, whose pot-smoking likewise led them to start drinking again, their original addiction progressed to the point of death.
The other story is that of a young woman, sober ten years, who was hospitalized for serious surgery. Her physician, who was an expert on alcoholism, told her it would be necessary after the surgery to give her a small dose of morphine once or twice for the pain, but he assured her she wouldn't need it any longer after that. This woman had never in her life used anything stronger than one aspirin tablet, for a rare headache.
The second night after the operation, she asked her doctor for one more dose of the morphine. She had already had the two. "Are you in pain?" he asked.
"No," she replied. Then she added in complete innocence, "But I might be later."
When he grinned at her, she realized what she had said, and what it apparently meant. Her mind and body in some way were already craving the drug.
She laughed and did without it, and has had no such desire since. Five years later, she is still sober and healthy. She occasionally tells of the incident at AA meetings to illustrate her own belief that a permanent "addiction proneness" persists even during sobriety in anyone who has ever had a drinking problem.
So most of us try to make sure any physician or dentist who serves us understands our personal history accurately, and is sufficiently knowledgeable about alcoholism to understand our risk with medications.
And we are wary of what we take on our own; we steer away from cough syrups with alcohol, codeine, or bromides, and from all those assorted smokes, powders, synthetic painkillers, liquids, and vapors that are sometimes freely handed around by unauthorized pharmacists or amateur anesthesiologists.
Why take a chance?
It is not at all difficult, we find, to skip such risky brushes with disaster—purely on grounds of health, not of morality. Through Alcoholics Anonymous, we have found a drug-free way of life which, to us, is far more satisfying than any we ever experienced with mood-changing substances.
The chemical "magic" we felt from alcohol (or substitutes for it) was all locked within our own heads, anyhow. Nobody else could share the pleasant sensations inside us. Now, we enjoy sharing with one another in AA—or with anybody outside AA—our natural, undoped happiness.
In time, the nervous system becomes healthy and thoroughly conditioned to the absence of mood-changing drugs, such as firewater. When we feel more comfortable without chemical substances than we felt while we were dependent on them, we come to accept and trust our normal feelings, whether high or low.
Then we have the strength to make healthful, independent decisions, relying less on impulse or the chemically triggered urge for immediate satisfaction. We can see and consider more aspects of a situation than before, can delay gratification for the sake of more enduring, long-term benefits, and can better weigh, not only our own welfare, but also that of others we care for.
Chemical substitutes for life simply do not interest us any more, now that we know what genuine living is.
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