Sober Stoner: Oxymoron or Genius

By Alyson Zetta Williams

When I arrived in New York City at 18, I thought I’d come prepared. There were my sheets, my very Californian wardrobe, and enough socks and underwear to last me through my freshman year. What I didn’t have was a fake ID, an item that would prove more necessary to my social development than a spot in the freshman Facebook group or a quirky sense of humor.

On a strict monthly allowance, I refused to dish out the $100+ that a functioning fake went for. My status as Girl Without Fake landed me in bed or at the movies most weekend nights, and I accepted that the next three years of my life would be spent without partying, alcohol, and the subsequent comradery. That is, until I got myself a stoner bf.

Smoking weed with his group became as much of a communal activity as their bar hopping on a Friday night, or clubbing on Saturday. It was how I first made a circle of friends in the city; it was how I first evaded my self-consciousness, certain anxieties. But perhaps most importantly, it didn’t require a fake ID or a drop of alcohol. During pre-games and dorm parties with friends, I’d take a hit but pass on the drinks, catalyzing my transformation from Girl Without Fake to something akin to Sober Stoner.

My youth sans fake ID did play a part in this transformation, however, my parents’ sobriety played an even bigger role. I was hyperaware around drunk adults at gatherings, and would receive a lecture from my mom whenever someone was plainly intoxicated on television. Smoking weed became the loophole in this contract of sobriety I had somehow entered into with my parents, which I was still too timid to break even from across the continent.

But does smoking weed compromise one’s sobriety?

“Changing your mental state with a chemical goes against what we talk about as sobriety,” says Dr. Scott Bienenfeld, CEO and medical director of Williamsburg recovery center Rebound Brooklyn. Sobriety, technically defined as “not having any measurable levels or effects from alcohol or other drugs … the natural state of a human being given at birth,” has arrived at a gray area when it comes to its colloquial meaning, however. Dr. Bienenfeld goes on to describe sobriety as a “self-reported phenomenon”, ultimately agreeing that a sober state is defined individually.

But what about the groups for which the meaning of sobriety is something more communal, more concrete? As cannabis continues to become legally accepted across the United States and other countries, can communities such as Alcoholics Anonymous accept the leaf as a supplement to sobriety rather than a deterrent?

As writer Laura Barcella points out, “in AA there are steps, traditions, and suggestions, but there are no real rules.” This leaves space for individual methods of coping, also known as harm reduction models. These “models” are practical sets of ideas and strategies used by addicts and alcoholics to reduce the negative consequences of their usage. VeryWellMind reports that “abstinence-based programs are not only unachievable but unrealistic for some people. By allowing a person to taper off gradually with marijuana, many of the ill effects of detoxification may be softened.” As one member puts it, “Some people smoke cigarettes in recovery, some people eat tons of sugar or drink coffee. But they’re all drugs … when I get four years [in AA], it will be four years of sobriety for me even though I’ve been smoking pot.” Perhaps total legalization is the only thing standing in the way of marijuana’s acceptance of a harm reduction substance.

While the idea of the Sober Stoner may still seem like an oxymoron, it might just be the next step in our evolution of coping or taking the edge off. The benefits of moderate alcohol consumption are few, and nothing that improved diet and exercise couldn’t solve. But when examining moderate marijuana usage, the medical benefits are vast. From easing chronic pain to treating seizures, nausea, and anxiety, weed has even been found to interact positively with treatments for cancer and Hep C, helping to stop the spread of cancer cells and increase the effectiveness of Hep C treatments in patients.

Doctors, organizations, and individuals all appear to agree that at the end of the day it’s up to us to decide - the Sober Stoner: oxymoron or stroke of genius?

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