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Medications & Drug Rehab: Treating Illnesses While Maintaining Sobriety

Addiction recovery programs help substance abusers overcome their addictions by getting them to abstain from misusing drugs, including prescription painkillers. In some situations, however, recovering addicts have a legitimate need for medication to reduce pain from chronic illnesses, surgery, or acute injury, or medication for mental health issues.

Physicians must walk a fine line in this situation, ensuring that the recovering addicts get the treatment they need without contributing to the person’s addiction.

Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), about 52 million Americans aged 12 and older –20 percent of the population – have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons at some point in their lives. The Foundation for a Drug-Free World estimates about 15 million people regularly abuse prescription drugs.

As with the abuse of illegal drugs like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine, prescription drug use can have serious negative consequences for addicts. Prescription drugs can alter moods and behaviors, causing harm to relationships between friends and family members. They can cloud judgment and impair thinking, resulting in bad personal and professional decisions. Prescription drug abuse can also get addicts in trouble with the law for actions such as driving under the influence, disorderly conduct, and other criminal offenses.


Woman crying suffering from prescription drug abuseThe most commonly abused classes of prescription drugs include:

  • Opioids, which are used in pain management. Opioids are the most commonly abused prescription drugs; medications such as Oxycontin and Vicodin are among the most frequently abused opioids.
  • Central nervous system depressants, which are used to treat sleep and anxiety disorders. Xanax is an example of a commonly abused central nervous system depressant.
  • Stimulants, which are used to treat attention deficit disorder and narcolepsy. Adderall is an example of a commonly abused stimulant.

There are a variety of reasons prescription drug abuse is on the rise—among them, the sheer availability of these drugs today. More medications are on the market than ever before, and doctors are also writing more prescriptions than ever.

Between 2013 and 2017, the number of prescriptions filled in the U.S. grew from 4.24 billion to 4.62 billion. Experts predict that number will continue to rise, hitting 5.13 billion in 2022.

Many addicts are taking advantage of poorly-supervised overseas pharmacies, placing online orders for prescription drugs that they’d have a tougher time obtaining from brick-and-mortar U.S. pharmacies.

Unfortunately, some patients who are prescribed medications for legitimate purposes become addicted to them and begin misusing them. This makes treatment difficult for doctors, who must balance the need to relieve patients’ pain with the risk of drug dependency.

Managing Medication for Addicts

The NCBI estimates that about 5 percent to 17 percent of the U.S. population has some kind of substance abuse. Unfortunately, these patients often don’t receive adequate pain management when they’re injured or dealing with a chronic pain issue that warrants use of prescription pain drugs, as they and their doctors are wary of compromising their recovery.

Doctor holding patients handThese concerns are not unfounded. It’s true that recovering addicts may relapse even if they try hard to carefully follow their physician’s advice for using opioids and psychotropic drugs.


When prescribing pain relievers or psychotropic drugs to recovering addicts, the following best practices can minimize the risk of causing a relapse into addiction:

  • For recovering addicts, it is best if just one physician is in charge of prescribing pain relievers or psychotropic drugs. Having a single point of contact to obtain prescriptions helps reduce the potential for abuse.
  • Physicians must take care to reduce opioid prescriptions to the minimum effective dose.
  • Physicians must be sure to provide adequate pain relief, however; attempting to use drugs that are less addictive may result in inadequate pain relief, which may lead recovering individuals to seek out more powerful drugs, triggering a relapse.
  • Pain relief should be consistent and around the clock. When pain medications are used only on an as-needed basis, this allows the pain to escalate, often leading patients to use more medication than would otherwise be needed control pain.
  • Physicians prescribing pain medication and psychotropic drugs to recovering addicts need to have a good relationship and rapport with patients’ families. This will help physicians monitor patient use of prescribed medications and curb the potential for abuse.
  • To avoid legal problems, physicians prescribing pain medication and psychotropic drugs to recovering addicts should thoroughly document the indication for use, medication provided with the dosage, dosing interval, and amount provided.

Tips for Patients

It’s not just the doctor’s responsibility to ensure that recovering substance abusers avoid relapsing when pain or other potentially addictive medication is prescribed. Recovering addicts also have a responsibility to ensure they do not fall back into bad habits.

The following tips can help recovering addicts ensure they do not relapse if they must take potentially addictive drugs in the course of medical treatment.

Man reading label of prescription pain medication

  • Be upfront with your doctor concerning your status as a recovering addict. Inform your physician of the drugs you are addicted to, how long you used them, and how long you’ve been in recovery. Discuss any past relapses with your doctor.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions concerning the medications your doctor wants to prescribe. Ask about proper use and their potential for addiction. Discuss alternative treatments with your doctor if necessary.
  • Enlist family support. Getting your family involved with your treatment can help you avoid a relapse. Ask trusted family members to store and dispense your medication to remove temptation. Also ask them to monitor your use to ensure that you don’t abuse the drugs.
  • Talk to your addiction counselor. If you’re in an outpatient treatment program, AA, or other recovery program, talk to your therapist, counselor, or sponsor about your medical treatment. These experts can help you monitor the situation and avoid relapse.

By taking ownership of your recovery and acting to ensure that you don’t relapse, you increase your chances of being able to safely take medication as prescribed by a doctor. With collaboration among physicians, patients, families, and addiction recovery program specialists, recovering addicts can safely make use of pain medication and psychotropic drugs while minimizing the risk of relapse.

Sobriety Status

Within the recovery community, there is some debate concerning whether recovering addicts who have been prescribed medicine for pain or psychological disorders are truly “sober.” It’s a legitimate debate, and there are strong opinions on both sides.


Patient Sitting on Couch Meeting with DoctorSome medical situations do require pain or psychotropic medication. Under a doctor’s care and close supervision, and when the need is dire, the legitimate use of pain or other medication should be an option for recovering addicts. Addicts and their physicians need to remain committed to recovery, and use of the medications should end as soon as the legitimate medical reason for their use is resolved.

About RECO Intensive

RECO Intensive is a South Florida rehab program providing specialized solutions for men and women seeking recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. RECO Intensive provides both residential care and an intensive outpatient program to help get individuals on the road to recovery. Whether you’re searching for a rehab program for yourself or a loved one, contact RECO Intensive today to find out more about our comprehensive alcohol and drug addiction treatment programs.





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