If there were ever a hot button issue in recovery, taking medication in sobriety would be it. Who should take it, who shouldn’t take it, what they should take, how much, how often and under what circumstances are hotly debated in recovery circles.
On one end of the spectrum, you have people who believe that in order to claim sobriety, one must completely abstain from all mood-altering substances, including medication prescribed by a doctor. On the other end of the spectrum are people who believe that if a doctor prescribes it, it must be ok. And then there are infinite numbers of opinions in between. So the question is: When it comes to medication and sobriety, where is the line?
While we could discuss every medication under the sun (there are people in recovery who would count a Tylenol as a relapse), for the sake of time I am going to narrow it down to the two most controversial: opiate blockers and ADD/ADHD medications.
Opiate Blockers, such as Suboxone or Subutex, are often prescribed to people with opiate dependency to ease the pain of withdrawal symptoms. These drugs work by attaching to the same receptors in the brain as opiates. This diminishes traditional withdrawal symptoms and also prevents the abuser from getting high off of opiates.
Many in recovery have issue with these drugs. First of all, opiate blockers have a high potential for abuse. The tablets can be crushed, snorted or injected and/or combined with other drugs to product an opiate-like high. Another problem is that opiate blockers in themselves can be physically addicting; if taken for long periods of time, the body begins to depend on them to function normally. When stopped, the user goes through the same type of withdrawal they were initially trying to avoid by taking the drug.
Opiate blockers are perhaps the most hotly debated medications in sobriety. Supporters argue that relieving the cravings and painful symptoms associated with withdrawal gives opiate addicts a better chance at achieving sobriety. Those against opiate blockers argue those who use the medication are not, in fact, truly sober.
ADD/ADHD medications, such as Adderall or Dexedrine, are prescribed to help people struggling with ADD and ADHD. These drugs work by changing the chemicals in the brain to alleviate the symptoms associated with ADD and ADHD and allow the user to focus more easily.
These medications have a high potential for abuse in numerous situations. Many high school and college students misuse these stimulants as a way to study for hours on end. People also use them to control weight, as the stimulants act as an appetite suppressant. And finally, these drugs produce a high and euphoria similar to cocaine.
Most people in recovery are adamant against the use of stimulant ADD/ADHD medications, especially when other options are available. But many users have been on these medications since childhood and feel that their ADD/ADHD symptoms will become unmanageable without them.
The Final Word
I wish that I could say a definitive “yes” or “no” to medication is sobriety, but I can’t. I think that every situation and individual is different and needs to be treated as such. But I do think that medications (both to people in recovery and in society at large) are grossly overprescribed. Doctors are often quick to prescribe a pill to treat a symptom rather than really delve into the root cause of a problem. For people in recovery, being honest and forthcoming about their history with their doctor is of upmost important, and all alternative treatment avenues should be explored before considering medication.
What do you think? With medication and sobriety, where is the line?