The Real Truth about Alcoholics and Addictive Medications

The Real Truth about Alcoholics and Addictive Medications


A lot of people in addiction recovery get confused about alcoholics and potentially addictive medications.  Some people believe that if a doctor prescribed you a drug that there is no reason not to take that medication on grounds that it may be addictive.  Other people go the opposite direction of this and are overly protective of their sobriety, to the point that they will not allow themselves to take, for example, pain medication even when they are in an extreme amount of physical pain.  

So where is the truth, and how can a recovering alcoholic or addict safely navigate the world of prescription medication?  How can we trust ourselves to take medication if we tend to get addicted to anything and everything?  How do we live our lives safely?

A couple of suggestions in this regard.

One, you have to start with the core concept of honesty, both with yourself as well as with your doctor.  If you are not being completely honest with yourself and others then none of the other suggestions regarding this topic are going to help you in any way.  It has to start with honesty. 

Second of all, you cannot just blanket trust every doctor in your life and take it on blind faith that they would never steer you wrong.  While I don’t recommend being your own doctor in every situation, I also do not recommend blind faith in a doctor either.  The reason for this is very simple: Many doctors do not have knowledge of addiction, period.  They simply don’t know about drug addiction and how to works.  Some doctors know almost nothing about this and are downright dangerous.

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This is changing, at least in the United States, where newer doctors have had some training and some background in the world of addiction.  Also, newer doctors have typically had to rotate into at least a mental health setting during their education and training, if not getting exposure directly from a drug and alcohol treatment center.  So in that regard the world is changing for the better, and newer doctors are much better prepared to deal with the possibility of drug addiction when dealing with prescriptions. 

However, there are many, many doctors who are still practicing who know nothing of addiction.  And when this is the case, it is YOUR responsibility to police yourself.  There are doctors who would prescribe you both painkillers and anxiety medications for almost trivial reasons if you let them.  Just because a doctor writes out a prescription does not mean that you should be taking it.  There are at least two important factors to consider: An honest and accurate assessment of your condition, and an educated doctor who has extensive knowledge of addiction risks.  If one of those two things is lacking then you can get into serious trouble if you put your blind faith in a doctor’s prescription.

So what can you do other than blindly trusting the medical community?  The key is to educate yourself on multiple fronts.  We do this in the world of addiction recovery as well; we don’t rely on a single person for our sobriety.  Instead, we gather advice from AA meetings, talk to multiple people, we use our peers, a therapist, a sponsor, and so on. 

And so it should be with your medical decisions that you make about what to put into your own body.  Don’t just trust a single person; instead, gather information from multiple sources so that you can make an informed decision.  It is true that we should not play doctor ourselves, nor should we ignore the advice of our physician.  Having said that, you are still ultimately responsible for what substances you put into your body, and second of all, you can tap into a wealth of knowledge by doing your own research online. 

This is especially true when it comes to medicating pain or anxiety.  These are the two biggest threats to your sobriety when it comes to prescribed medication.  And there are almost always alternatives to taking Xanax or Vicodin other other addictive substances that could threaten your sobriety and your very life itself. 

For example, if you have anxiety and your doctor recommends Xanax, you might tell him that you want to explore your options a bit first.  You know that taking Xanax could lead to a full blown relapse and the loss of everything that is important to you.  So here are some suggestions:

1) Ask the doctor is there are alternative medications that are not addictive (such as Buspar, Paxil, etc.) that might be able to treat your anxiety.

2) Ask at AA or NA meetings how people there have dealt with their anxiety.  Listen to suggestions and actually take advice.

3) Start exercising daily along with breathing exercises and meditation.  If you ask for honest feedback from others these will both get suggested to you at some point.

4) Seek out other medical professionals who have more experience in dealing with addiction and anxiety.  Get advice and feedback from others. 


The point is that you don’t just talk to one single doctor and say “Well, he wants me to take this addictive substance, so I better listen to him.”  That is crazy.  That one single doctor could be completely clueless about addiction.  You need to gather information, use all your available resources, and then make an informed decision.


Now there are actually times when a recovering addict has to ingest addictive substances, such as is the case with extreme physical pain.  In such cases, my number one suggestion to you would be that you do all of the above and seek alternatives first, but barring those solutions, if you must take an addictive substance, do not self administer it. 


In other words, ask a trusted family member to help you.  Medication comes with instructions, and the biggest problem comes when the addict in question fails to follow those dosing instructions by taking more than is prescribed.  So have a family member keep the medication locked up for you, and distribute them to you only as prescribed.  If the bottle says “every 4 hours” then the family member would follow those instructions down to the letter, never giving you more than is allowed.  They would also make sure you swallow any pills so that you can not stash them for later and double up a future dose. 


Obviously this is not the ideal scenario, and we would prefer to eliminate the addictive substance altogether.  But sometimes this is the best we can do, and you have to ask for help and rely on people that you trust in order to keep yourself in check. 


The bottom line is that you need to be careful, and you need to be very cautious of blindly trusting any one individual in this world, even if that person is a medical expert.  Sometimes medical experts are not experts when it comes to addiction, and therefore we need to stay vigilant and be in charge of our own recovery efforts.

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