If you or someone you love is in recovery from drug addiction, you may have wondered whether or not it’s okay to drink alcohol. After all, if you were addicted to drugs, drugs were your problem, not alcohol–right?

Unfortunately, the disease of addiction is more complex than this. The vast majority of people who struggle with one type of substance use disorder cannot safely use another type of substance, even if it is a different type of substance they were addicted to previously.

In this article, you will learn:

  • About the disease of addiction
  • What is transfer addiction
  • Why you shouldn’t drink alcohol if you’re in recovery from drug addiction
  • How to stay on the right track

Understanding Drug Addiction and Transfer Addiction

Drug addiction is a complex disease that affects millions of individuals worldwide. It’s characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. Addiction is often fueled by changes in the brain’s structure and function, particularly in areas related to judgment, decision-making, learning, and memory, that occur after repeated substance abuse.

When someone is addicted to a particular substance, such as heroin, methamphetamine, or prescription opioids, their brain becomes wired to seek out and use that substance compulsively. This behavior is driven by the brain’s reward system, which reinforces drug use by releasing neurotransmitters like dopamine, creating feelings of pleasure and euphoria.[1]

However, addiction is not limited to a specific substance. Transfer addiction, also known as cross-addiction or addiction substitution, occurs when someone switches from one addictive behavior or substance to another.[2] This can be particularly dangerous for individuals in recovery because it perpetuates the cycle of addictive behavior.

Transfer addiction can happen in recovery, too. For example, if a drug addict starts drinking and their drinking gets out of control, they may develop an alcohol addiction.

Alcohol is a Drug, Too

People often make a distinction between drugs and alcohol. When they think of drugs, they think of illicit drugs like heroin, meth, or cocaine.

Alcohol, on the other hand, is so ingrained in American culture that it is widely accepted. Anyone over the age of 21 can legally purchase and drink it, but more than 34% of people try alcohol at least once before they reach legal age.[3]

These distinctions make it easy to differentiate between drugs and alcohol. However, a drug is any mood-or-mind-altering substance–both legal and illegal. Alcohol is both mood-and-mind-altering, so it can certainly be considered a drug.

Not only is alcohol a drug, but it is also one of the most dangerous and addictive. An estimated 29.5 people in the U.S. have an alcohol use disorder and approximately 178,000 people die each year as a result of alcohol-related causes.[4,5]

Can Alcohol Trigger a Drug Relapse?

Drinking alcohol while in drug addiction recovery can trigger a drug relapse. There are numerous reasons for an alcohol-induced relapse, including:

  • Poor judgment – Alcohol can affect your ability to make healthy decisions, increasing the chances of drug use.
  • Reduced inhibitions – Alcohol consumption makes people more relaxed and easy-going. This lax attitude can translate to higher susceptibility to drug use as people often do things while under the influence of alcohol that they would otherwise not do.
  • Increased cravings – By activating the reward centers in the brain, alcohol can actually make you crave drugs that you were addicted to in the past.
  • Risky situations – Drinking sometimes occurs in risky environments where drug use is happening. Being around others who are using drugs can increase the temptation.

Alcohol abuse is incredibly risky, especially for recovering drug addicts.

Can Someone in Drug Addiction Recovery Drink Alcohol? The Bottom Line

The question is more “should you” drink alcohol in recovery rather than “can you.” Alcohol is a widely accepted substance and it is legal if you are over the age of 21. However, if you are in recovery from drug addiction, consuming alcohol is not a good idea. Not only are you at a greatly increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD), but alcohol can lead to poor decision making so it could result in a drug relapse. Even if you didn’t have a problem with alcohol before, you can get addicted if you abuse it at any time.

Ultimately, your sobriety isn’t worth one buzz. You’ve worked too hard to risk it all for a drink. Stay sober and keep pushing forward.

How to Stay on Track in Your Recovery

If you find yourself tempted to test the limits of your sobriety, this should be a wake-up call that you need to place some more attention on your recovery. Luckily, there are several healthy coping skills you can practice and alternatives to drinking. These include:

  • Recognize triggers and warning signs that may lead to relapse.
  • Surround yourself with people who understand and support your recovery journey.
  • Engage in activities such as exercise, hobbies, or volunteering to occupy your time and mind.
  • Attend regular support groups.
  • Practice mindfulness, meditation, or deep breathing to stay grounded and manage stress.
  • Seek professional help to address underlying mental health issues and learn coping strategies.
  • Stay away from environments, people, or situations that may tempt you to drink.
  • Celebrate your progress and achievements, no matter how small.
  • Prioritize self-care, nutrition, and regular sleep to maintain physical and emotional well-being.
  • Establish a daily routine to provide structure and stability in your life.
  • Be honest with yourself and others about your challenges and setbacks, and ask for help when needed.

These practices can help you stay focused on your recovery and maintain sobriety long-term.

Get Help Now

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction or need support at any stage in your recovery, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Please contact First Step Behavioral Health today to speak with a caring addictions specialist.


  1. National Institutes of Health (NIH): The Neuroscience of Drug Reward and Addiction
  2. Springer Link: Addiction Transfer
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): Underage Drinking in the United States (ages 12 to 20)
  4. NIDA: Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in the United States: Age Groups and Demographic Characteristics
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Deaths from Excessive Alcohol Use — United States, 2016–2021

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