Here at Boston Drug Treatment Centers, one story we keep hearing is that of people falling off the wagon while they’re out on vacation. Traveling during early recovery can be beneficial when done right. However, when unplanned, it’s often a risky move and not often recommended, especially for people who are fresh out of rehab or have a history of travel anxiety.
In any case, everyone deserves a break — especially people recovering from drug or alcohol misuse. However, the specific destination can make an impact on the likelihood of relapsing. This can be especially relevant in the early stages of recovery. If you or someone you’re traveling with is currently recovering from a drug use disorder, choosing your destination carefully can make the trip an opportunity for fun, adventure, and healing.
Below are some destinations to consider avoiding when you’re recovering from a drug use disorder. Please note that the states and countries mentioned below are quite diverse and may still be good destinations, provided you avoid specific problem areas.
1.) Cannabis-tourism states
While recreational cannabis is legal here in Massachusetts, it is not yet as widely accessible as it is in some other legal states such as Colorado, Oregon, Washington State, and California. Unfortunately, access to other still-illicit drugs tends to increase in legal cannabis states.
This risk may be further increased in specific areas where cannabis tourism is practiced. In the Netherlands, a country that pioneered cannabis legalization and tourism, attitudes towards cannabis and drug tourism are starting to become negative, due to a perceived increase in the proliferation of other so-called harder drugs.
2.) Party destinations
All the world’s so-called party destinations are, almost without exception, hotspots for recreational drugs. Whether you’re talking about cities or tropical beach getaways, access to illicit drugs is very likely going to be high, whichever party destination you’re going to. If you’re trying to recover from an alcohol use disorder, these places should move further down the list, as alcohol is likely to be even more accessible in quantity at these places.
3.) The Golden Triangle and Golden Crescent
Countries in these areas produce about 90% of the world’s opium and are also the source of many illicit opioid drugs like heroin. The Golden Triangle is an area in Southeast Asia that includes parts of Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam, while the Golden Crescent includes Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
While the countries in the Golden Crescent are not generally considered to be top tourism destinations, many nations in the Golden Triangle are. In certain areas, Western tourists can expect to be offered opioids and other drugs for extremely low prices.
The low price of opioid drugs in these countries has led thousands of Westerners to the area to try to earn a profit through drug smuggling or to indulge in illicit opioids drugs priced several times cheaper than they are back in the US and Western Europe. Unfortunately, going to these destinations specifically for drugs can end poorly, often resulting in the hapless drug tourist overdosing, being imprisoned, or worse.
4.) Some parts of South America
South America is a massive continent spanning 14 countries, so it would be unfair to label the whole continent as a drug tourism destination. That said, there are certainly a few spots in the continent to avoid, particularly if you’re recovering from cocaine use.
Colombia, in particular, has risen in popularity with American drug tourists, to the point that many locals assume most foreign tourists are there for the drugs. In certain spots, you might even be approached by local dealers who will attempt to sell you not just cocaine, but also MDMA, heroin, and cannabis as well. There are also well-known (and highly illegal) “make your own cocaine” tours here, as well as in other coca-growing countries like Peru and Bolivia.
Traveling doesn’t just help you unwind. It can boost your mental health. In some cases, a vacation could be just what an individual recovering from SUD needs.
However, not all destinations are the same. To avoid substance use triggers, trips need to be carefully planned and destinations need to be thoroughly researched so that no unnecessary relapse risks are taken. This may be especially relevant during early recovery when you’re still learning which strategies are best for helping you deal with cravings and triggers.
Fortunately, even if you’re recovering from drug use disorder there’s no need to completely avoid all the destinations that we just mentioned. In all but a few cases, the risks are restricted to just a few areas or regions. If you do have an interest in the local culture or are interested in a wholesome good time that doesn’t involve drugs, careful planning can usually make it possible.
If you’re still in early recovery, make sure to consult your therapist before planning your trip. Good luck, and stay sober!