Can I go back to AA after being a controlled user who relapses?

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on June 5th, 2009 - Last updated: September 28th, 2023
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Dear Dr. Peele,

I am a former AA member.

At one time I had 2.5 years sober, and I have been on a “relapse” for 2 years. Everything was fine, and I was sure that I was just brainwashed. I got married, and had a healthy baby girl. Then one day after a month of smoking pot I decided to smoke heroin again. – A poor choice considering the fact that I am a mother now, but I did, and have been for about 3 months now.

I want to stop, but I’m having a hard time going back to AA and accepting their ideas.

My shame is that what I was so proud of doing has become a serious issue. I’m breastfeeding my baby. We both love nursing, I’m going into detox Monday (either me or my hubby will go in first). But I need to know what affect this has on my baby. I’m sure It can’t be good. I feel terrible about it.

Please tell me if she is addicted, and if it is safe for her if I detox cold turkey. Would that be cold turkey for her too? Will she be safe? She is 13 months now. Thank you, I appreciate your advice…..


Dear Anonymous:

People who strive to abstain relapse; people who strive to limit or control their substance use relapse. There is no mystery in that. Even AA and disease advocates anticipate frequent relapse — hence their new favorite mantra: “addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease.”

Ironically, AA encourages people to fess up, and accepts relapse if they fail at abstinence, but — as you anticipate — they muderalize you if you were using and go off on a jag. It could be an extremely unpleasant and non-nurturant setting for you. If you are considering group support, check to see if there is a RR, SMART Recovery, or woman’s support group near you.

Your job is to do what’s best for you and your baby. The value you share with most parents is to safeguard your child through appropriate, sober mothering behavior. I’m glad you were abstinent or else hopefully nearly so while you were pregnant. (Incidentally, one of your risk factors seems to be that your husband is using heroin.)

You were abstinent for 2.5 years and a controlled substance user for 2 years — it’s obvious that you have the capacity to do so. You must return to these states, and you must figure out your way there — as you have done in the past.

Of course, while nursing an infant, abstinence is preferable, unless you are truly only the mildest of users (and I would include caffeine in there). You seem to be appropriately serious about and set on pursuing this course. This is right and, as best you can, eliminate the guilt but pursue your resolve.

Of course, you should get information about how abstaining will impact your daughter.

I am not a physician. I believe the data show that even fetal children of heroin addicts can rarely be called addicted — it is the set of behaviors surrounding addiction that is damaging to the fetus (bad diet, smoking, drinking, and other drug use). But, obviously, this is one of the things you should review in detox. I have to believe they have had this situation before, and can assist you with proper precautions.

Naturally, the risk of disturbing your baby through quitting heroin is small compared with continuing to use.

As I often tell people, life is long — there are many chances for mistakes and for corrections. You have a highly motivated reason to change now. You are aware of and resolved to do the right thing, and you will succeed, as you have in the past.

With regards,

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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