One of the most heavily abused types of drug is the prescription painkillers class. Comprised primarily of narcotic opioids, these drugs are powerful, provide a euphoric kick, and can be highly effective at treating pain. While taking them recreationally is obviously a no-no in recovery, what about taking them for legitimate medical reasons?
What makes prescription painkillers such a touchy subject in recovery? If they come from a doctor, shouldn’t they be ok? Well, not necessarily. The problem lies in the fact that many addicts in recovery utilized prescription painkillers for a majority of their drug abuse while they were using. Prescription painkillers, even the seemingly innocuous ones, are almost all members of the Opioid class of drugs. These drugs are chemically similar to heroin, opium and morphine, and produce much of the same effects. They are powerfully addictive – not just mentally but physically, and many addicts actually prefer them to their street counterparts. For these reasons, many in recovery will steer away from them completely.
The Allergy Concept
One of the main reasons that alcoholics and addicts in recovery will stay away from prescription painkillers if at all possible is because of the allergy concept. In Alcoholics Anonymous, part of the definition of alcoholism is that individuals with the disease suffer from a physical allergy. This means that anytime they put drugs or alcohol inside of their body, they have a physical reaction that is outside of their control. Because of this, even if a prescription narcotic was given to them in a legitimate setting, it still has the potential to set off the same craving for more that it would if taken recreationally. Many will choose to neglect taking these type of drugs for this reason.
For those that have had a previous problem with opiates, this concern is especially pertinent. Whereas many who start taking narcotic painkillers post surgery or following an intense accident have never felt the euphoric pain relieving qualities that they provide, recovering opiate addicts are very familiar with the feeling, which can make it highly triggering. This leads to an increased risk when they are in a situation where the drugs are called for. So what is the next indicated action if someone who used to have a problem with opiates absolutely has to take pain killers?
For someone in recovery who finds themselves needing to take prescription painkillers because of a very serious surgery, there are a few things to keep in mind that can alleviate some of the dangers in doing so. First of all, it is imperative that they do not go into the situation alone. If someone finds themselves needing to take prescription painkillers, making sure that their sponsor, support group and fellows are all on the same page is key. It is much easier to stay on top of triggers and keep on the straight and narrow when accountable to others. Overestimating one’s abilities is a surefire way to get set up for failure. There are many examples of individuals with many years sober relapsing because of trying to manage legitimately prescribed painkillers on their own. Whether the prescription is for something like Vicodin, or something like Oxycontin, it is important to not try to go it alone.
Second, having someone help out with dispensing the medication if at all possible is a good call. If there is a roommate not in recovery, a mentor that has a much larger amount of time sober, or a willing spouse or significant other, it may be smart to have them help dispense the medication. If this is not possible, having a system of calling another member of your support group whenever it is time to take the prescription painkiller is another way that you can stay accountable and safe.
Finally, have an end in sight. Make sure to be communicating with your doctor and the medical team attending to you about your recovery and addiction. It can be easy to get caught up in an indefinite cycle of painkiller use, especially for something like a back injury or other potentially chronic conditions. Explore alternative treatments with your doctor and make sure that you have a stop date in mind if you do decide that there are no other options for the moment than taking prescription painkillers.
A Fine Line
While there are situations where taking prescription painkillers in recovery may be warranted, it is definitely not something to be approached lightly or haphazardly. If an individual is diligent in their preparation and makes sure to adhere to some simple principles of accountability and transparency with their support system, it can be done without relapsing. However it can be a fine line to tread, especially if someone has a previous history of opiate abuse. Making sure to work with a sponsor surrounding the issue, looking at motives for taking the medications and never deviating from a medically prescribed dosage are all important steps to allow someone in recovery to make it through the experience. Do you have any experience with making a decision to or not to take prescription painkillers in recovery? We would love to hear your story below!
Last Updated on August 12, 2023