[I recently did some work with a drug treatment IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program). Not surprisingly (as I had heard this same question from my private patients struggling with addiction) there was this hope of someday being able to attain and maintain “recreational User” status. To all those struggling with addiction and with the desire to modulate your addiction to recreational use – it is to you that this missive was penned.]

A: Maybe someday, but by then you won’t want to.

Recent research in the field of epigenetics (changes around the gene not in the gene) suggests that, indeed, after 15-20 years of abstinence alcoholics and addicts in recovery may be able to become recreational users. The reality is that after doing whatever it took to be abstinent for 15-20 years; most alcoholics don’t want to risk finding out.

In a nutshell the research is fascinating. Using NAIVE rats (those who had no former exposure to Alcohol or Cocaine) as subjects, researcher found that naive rats given cocaine in the amounts equalling a pretty heavy weekend binge (there’s a visual for you) might entail (pardon the pun) led to epigenetic changes. Without getting too scientific suffice it to say that these epigenetic changes consisted of certain molecule groups attaching themselves around the genome (the spiral double helix.) These molecules were found to exert an effect on the areas of the brain key to addictive behavior. Interestingly enough after about 10 days newly attached molecules fell off the epi-genome in NAIVE subject mice. The implication being that rare use did not an addict make.

However, the picture for those rats used as subjects in the design meant to mimic the effects of long term alcohol or cocaine abuse (separate studies – this was not some fraternity – (quite literally) “Animal House” replication in the lab) had SOME similar results as to the study of the naive animals. Similar, in that the same class of molecule attached to the epigenome. However the attachments incurred through years of use did not drop off in 10 days. The research indicates that after prolonged use of cocaine or alcohol these epigenetic attachments stayed attached for 15 or so years. Again, the implication being: maybe after 20 or so years clean and or sober a user might be able to be recreational.

However, as the Alcoholics Anonymous saying about drinking goes: “One’s too many – 5,000 not enough” is probably a beacon of wisdom for the newly clean and or sober. The wish for recreation drinking ability is best seen as a desire to use. A desire hidden in a wish sent to you straight from the epigenetic center of you misery. A center where despite your experience; the drugs are sending the message – not you. Distance yourself from their siren’s song.

Strength and Kudos to all of you who have undertaken this extraordinarily difficult road to a clean and sober life. My advice is typical of any addiction specialist: work the program, find a sponsor, get help and follow that beacon for 20 years and then revisit the question – and then only if you must – I doubt you will want to.

I would say best of luck to you, but in this area I wish you all the best of skill!