Taking prescription medication in recovery from addiction can have both favorable and unfavorable consequences. While in some instances, prescription medication may be necessary to recover from surgery, to treat a diagnosed illness, or to improve your overall health and quality of life, they also have the potential to derail your recovery efforts.
So what should you do if you are faced with this dilemma? Although the decision to take prescription medication in recovery is very personal, and one that only you can make, here are a few things to consider first.
Medication-Assisted Treatment for Addiction
During your treatment in detox, rehab, and sober living, medication-assisted treatment may be necessary to treat any co-occurring disorders or mental health problems that have contributed to your addiction in the past. Although holistic treatment options are also very effective and are highly recommended, in some instances, medication may still be necessary.
For example, while you are in detox, your treatment team of medical professionals may prescribe drugs like Naltrexone to help you overcome alcohol abuse and withdrawal symptoms.1 Other medications like methadone and buprenorphine may also sometimes be used to treat opioid addiction.2
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), research has shown that a combination of medication and therapy is effective in treating substance use disorders and can help people achieve long-term sobriety. Medications used in medication-assisted treatment are all approved by the FDA and programs are of a clinical nature and are specifically tailored to meet each individual’s needs.3
Although no single medication is a cure for addiction, prescription drugs can be used in combination with behavioral therapy as a part of an overall treatment program to help a person get sober and prevent relapse. The use of medication may continue after detox and rehab as the client attends counseling sessions, support group meetings, and completes programs like IOP, aftercare, or sober living.
Prescription Medications for Illness in Recovery
During physical illness, surgery, or when receiving treatment for serious, life-threatening diseases, a person in recovery may also need to take prescription medications. Although some people may consider this relapse behavior, others may believe that under certain conditions, it’s okay.
In reality, you may be faced with making the decision to either take prescription medications for an illness or suffer physically. Regardless of how you decide to handle the situation, you should know that by adhering to certain behaviors, you can greatly reduce your risk of relapse. By doing the following things, you may potentially be able to take prescription medications responsibly in recovery:
- Taking prescription medications exactly as prescribed
- Only taking prescription medications under strict medical supervision
- Not increasing the dosages in any way
- Not using alcohol or other drugs to enhance the effects of prescription drugs
- Not “doctor shopping” to get more prescriptions than necessary
Prescription Medications to Avoid in Recovery (When Possible)
If you do find that it’s necessary for you to take prescription drugs in recovery, there are certain types of prescription drugs you can avoid (when possible) to reduce your risk of relapse.4 These include:
- Opioids: Opioid medications, or narcotics, are prescribed for pain. They are highly addictive so they should be avoided whenever possible. If you have to take them post-surgery, you can talk to your doctor about your history with addiction and develop a plan to get off them as soon as possible. If you suffer from chronic pain in recovery, you may want to consider alternative, natural ways to deal with chronic pain in recovery instead of relying on prescription opioids.
- Benzodiazepines: These types of drugs are usually prescribed for anxiety and are also highly addictive. Similar drugs may also be prescribed to help people deal with sleeping problems. While benzodiazepines are helpful for many people with anxiety disorders, research shows that long-term therapy can be just as effective or even more so. There are also many alternative ways to cope with insomnia in sobriety if you are struggling to get a good night’s rest.
- Psychostimulants: These drugs are usually prescribed to treat ADHD but they have a high potential for abuse. However, another class of drugs known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) is just as effective and much less likely to be addictive. Examples include Zoloft, Celexa, Prozac, and Lexapro.
How to Prevent Relapse Due to Prescription Medications in Recovery
As a person in recovery, it is wise to ensure that your doctor is aware of your history with addiction. In any case, your doctor should assess your risk for addiction before prescribing any medication. However, if you do decide to take prescription drugs in recovery, you can also take intentional steps to minimize your own risk by:
- Alerting your NA or AA sponsor, family, and friends
- Asking for extra support from your sponsor, sober living program coordinator, and other individuals in your recovery support circle
- Having someone monitor your medication use
- Seeking out a detox program or recovery help if you experience cravings, withdrawal, or depression while taking prescription medications
Taking Prescription Drugs in Recovery is a Personal Choice
Some people believe taking prescription drugs in recovery will lead to relapse while others do not. While there are legitimate arguments on both sides of the issue, the choice is yours to make. Here’s what Narcotics Anonymous has to say on the issue:
|“It’s helpful to remember the importance of making a conscious decision not to medicate ourselves or treat our own illnesses. The Basic Text recommends consulting professionals concerning our medical problems. |
We also work closely with our sponsor and other experienced NA members we trust. Many members today have experience with illness and medication in recovery. We can look to their example and listen to their experience to help us face our fears about medication.
We remember that we are especially vulnerable to our old ways of thinking when we are in pain. Prayer, meditation, and sharing can help us keep our minds off our discomfort. Addicts are often surprised to discover how much pain we can tolerate without medication.
Reaching out and sharing honestly with those we trust can help us keep our priorities in order. Our goal is to maintain our recovery.”
As a sober living client, you are responsible for the purchase and consumption of your own food and drink, as well as adhering to any medication regimens directed by your doctor. However, by communicating clearly and frequently with your sponsor, sober living program coordinator, and other supportive individuals, you can maintain your recovery with or without the use of prescription medications.
If you have already relapsed, there is nothing to be ashamed of. The caring staff at Eudaimonia Recovery Homes is here to help you get back on track. We understand that recovery is an ongoing process and sometimes relapse is a part of the journey. You may be experiencing a setback, but there is nothing keeping you from reclaiming a sober life in recovery. Call us today to learn more about our sober living programs and recovery support services.