Coping drinkers are different than reactive drinkers because the coping drinker falls back into their addiction in response to a particular event, rather that a state of mind.
For example, I had a patient who was 14 year sober. His father, diagnosed with ALS, was dying, and he would drink a few beers in the garage before going in to see him. This went on for about 2 months, his father died, he stopped drinking the day of the funeral and has been sober for about 5 years now.
Did he pick up? – yep; did he fall off? – nope – because his drinking was specific and contained, and it was the only coping skill he had at his disposal for that level of emotional stress.
So, we've qualified the variety of addictive ‘styles', if you will, let's consider the levels of addiction, again, using the language of alcoholism.
- Alcoholic – this is someone who engages in a consistent pattern of substance abuse, sometimes to the degree that it interferes with their ability to function effectively and meet the social demands of daily living. The chronic alcoholic, maintenance drinker or cyclical alcoholic who is consistently late, or ‘forgets' to pay bills, or basically just can't show up in a responsible fashion falls into this category.
- Problem drinker – this is someone who engages in an inconsistent pattern of substance abuse, sometimes to the degree that it interferes with their ability to function effectively and meet the social demands of daily living. Again, those same passive-aggressive characteristics and social interference qualities apply, just not so much, so often or with as dire consequence.
- Dry drunk – this is someone who has ceased drinking, but continues to engage in the behaviors characteristic of addiction, where those characteristics include passive-aggression, social inconsistency, deception, secretiveness, etc.
- Sober – this is someone who has ceased drinking, and has also begun to change the behaviors characteristic of addiction.
- Past sober – this is someone who has ceased drinking, changed the behaviors characteristic of addiction and moved past the point of being socially, environmentally or psychologically influenced into returning to addictive behavior. This person is sober and has also gained control over their triggers.
My favorite examples of "past sober" are people who engage in what I call the 13th Step – alcoholics who tend bar or become drug and alcohol counselors, medical professionals with drug problems who return to work in a hospital, or, more commonly, people whose spouses drink socially, can keep liquor in their house, or can go out to a bar with their friends and be comfortable. One young woman I counsel is quite proud of being the Permanent Designated Driver.