Everyone will experience physical pain at some point. Whether you’re in an accident, suffer from chronic back pain, have surgery, or break a bone, there is no one who is immune. That means that even those who are in recovery from substance abuse and addiction are not exempt. The question is really when you will suffer pain, not if you will. If you are in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, that brings up another question – how can you maintain your sobriety if narcotic painkillers are needed and prescribed? If your doctor suggests opioid pain relievers like oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, or the much stronger Fentanyl, will your sobriety and recovery be compromised? It’s a dilemma that bears careful consideration, according to Summit Behavioral Health a New Jersey addiction treatment center.
How to manage serious physical pain when you’re in recovery is not an easy thing to do. It’s vital that excruciating pain be eased, but most medications that will provide that relief can jeopardize even long periods of sobriety. Finding the balance between alleviating pain and maintaining recovery from addiction varies from person to person, but it always carries a degree of risk of relapse. It can trigger the substance addiction process to begin in patients causing relapse to their original drug of choice or a new one.
Which Pain Medications are Safe to Use in Recovery?
There are some pain medications that are safe for people in recovery. They include such drugs as Tylenol (acetaminophen), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, Advil (ibuprofen), and Aleve (naproxen sodium). But these types of pain relievers don’t often provide enough relief when serious pain is involved. For those who undergo surgery, have serious chronic pain, or extensive injuries, some Tylenol and an ice pack are clearly not sufficient to lessen the amount of pain they are suffering.
What If “Unsafe” Medications Are Prescribed?
So, what is a person in recovery to do when stronger painkillers are suggested? The first step is to discuss the risks of taking such medications with your doctor. Your doctor should consider your personal and family history of alcohol or drug addiction – these factors must be considered. Some physicians, even today, are not familiar with the addiction process and are therefore not as concerned with prescribing painkillers that might be unsafe for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. As the patient, or the family of the patient in cases where the patient cannot speak for himself, you must be responsible for alerting your doctor about your risk of relapse.
Depending on the circumstances and the level of pain, a prescription painkiller may still be warranted. Doctors typically follow these guidelines when prescribing pain medication to people in recovery or those who have a family history of addiction:
For patients with chronic pain: Chronic pain is usually defined as pain that has lasted longer than six months. Most patients can successfully be treated without the prescription of opioids – they are seen as a last resort medication for people in recovery. The World Health Organization recommends the following steps be adhered to when treating pain, and opioids are the last of these:
Doctors should suggest over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen sodium; they are not addictive.
If OTC pain medications don’t offer enough relief, then it’s recommended that doctors prescribe medications like lidocaine, gabapentin, and tricyclic antidepressants. These are still considered relatively safe for patients in recovery.
Only when those medications fail to work should opioid painkillers be considered for pain management, and protocol should be followed for the close monitoring of the patient.
For patients with acute pain: Acute pain, such as pain following an injury or surgery, is typically treated first with an opioid painkiller, but only for a short amount of time (a few days at the most). After the initial acute phase of the injury or recovery from surgery, the opioid drugs should be discontinued under the doctor’s supervision.
Managing Pain While Avoiding Relapse
It’s important when a person recovering from alcohol and drug addiction has to take prescription pain medication that they let those close to them know exactly what they are taking and when. Sponsors, family members, spouses, and other people in their recovery support system must be aware of the prescription, why they are on it, and how they should be taking it. In this situation, there can be no secrets.
One of the best ways to manage pain and avoid relapse is to have someone other than the patient administer the painkillers. Taking the control out of the hands of the person in recovery is often recommended. The goal for people in recovery who have to take prescription painkillers is to take the medication as prescribed, no more, and to get off of the pain medication as soon as possible. However, it is very important that when a person in recovery is suffering from severe pain that it be addressed. Untreated pain in a person with substance abuse and addiction issues is a relapse risk waiting to happen in itself.
Precautions to Take When Prescription Pain Medication is Necessary
If you are in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction and you find yourself in the position where prescription painkillers are necessary, there are some precautions you can take to help avoid relapse.
Make sure that all your medical providers know your personal and family history of addiction, how long you have been sober, and what your wishes are regarding pain medication.
Make sure that you are prescribed the lowest effective dose of any addictive medications.
Asking someone else to administer addictive medications – take the control out of your own hands.
Calling your doctor if you have increased pain rather than taking more medication than prescribed.
Continuing the activities that support your recovery like 12-step meetings, talking with your sponsor, or other related activities.
If You Become Addicted to Pain Medication
There may come a time that you have to use prescription painkillers even though you are in recovery. They can greatly improve your quality of life, but they can also put your sobriety at risk, so you have to remain vigilant and weigh your options carefully. In the event that you do become addicted to prescription pain medication, all is not lost. You can regain your sobriety and continue your recovery if you seek help from the right addiction treatment center.
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