For many people, sobriety refers to total abstinence from mood-altering substances. The premise is simple: do not use drugs or alcohol no matter what. But can or should there ever be exceptions in this seemingly black-and-white rule?
In this case, how do we appropriately examine severe medical conditions, like major injuries, surgeries, or cancer treatment? Are you compromising your sobriety if you take opioids for acute pain treatment? Should you consider other alternatives? Moreover, what if those other alternatives don’t work?
Health Statistics in America
Let’s take a moment to study the current medical landscape in the United States. Although we’re living longer than ever, that doesn’t make us necessarily healthier.
38% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes. 6 million automobile accidents occur every year, with 2 million drivers experiencing permanent injuries. Finally, from 1996-2006, the rates of surgical procedures increased by a whopping 300%.
In other words, we all face a tremendous risk of suffering from a major accident or health issue during our lifetimes. Pain, in some ways, appears inevitable. It’s not a matter of if an issue should happen- but more of a matter of when.
But what does this mean for someone in recovery for an addiction?
Managing Medical Pain in Recovery
Of course, nobody likes to be in pain. Medical ailments can impact our physical, emotional, and financial well-being. When untreated, they can be debilitating.
Changes in Opioid Prescription Treatment
Macklemore crooned the infamous lyrics, My drug dealer was a doctor, doctor, had the plug from Big Pharma, Pharma in his smashing hit, Drug Dealer. This song increased awareness to the legal opioid prescription epidemic plaguing America.
Only a few years ago, pill mills ravaged the country, treating pain issues with opioids and hooking tens of thousands of patients into the throes of addiction. According to the CDC, several states had more prescriptions for painkillers than people in pain.
Today, the government has made serious efforts in cracking down on these clinics with massive lawsuits and incarcerations. In fact, the crackdown has been so effective that a growing subset of healthcare patients is protesting a sense of discrimination for people struggling with severe and legitimate pain. These individuals are contending that it’s unfair to be denied medication for life-threatening illnesses such as advanced cancers.
Thus, many healthcare providers find it challenging to discern legitimate pain issues from physical dependence associated with opioid use.
Taking Opioids in Recovery
It’s essential to be completely transparent with your doctor and surgeon before any procedure or medical treatment. Your disclosure of addiction may feel uncomfortable, but it’s vital your providers understand your health history.
You can benefit from consulting with your loved ones, recovery team (sponsor, therapist, doctor) to discuss a reasonable strategy for success.
Some patients benefit from having loved ones hold onto the medication. The ‘medication administrator’ holds the drug supply and doses them to the patient on an appropriate schedule. This individual must thoroughly know the individual’s addiction history and be able to hold firm boundaries to avoid manipulation.
Another strategy includes involving a single, specific physician who writes the prescription with no refills. The patient must demonstrate the ability to comply with the medication protocol before receiving any more opioids. This means that medicines must be filled at the same pharmacy- patients cannot call in by phone, and lost or damaged prescriptions do not get replaced.
Alternatives to Opioids
Opioid treatment is not always necessary. Emerging research demonstrates numerous alternatives to opioids regarding pain management. These options include:
- Cold and heat
- Physical therapy
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Opioid agonists
Being Mindful Of Addiction
Any opioid treatment can result in withdrawal symptoms once stopping or reducing the use. These symptoms can be undoubtedly triggering for someone in recovery. All patients must be aware of the proverbial slippery slope- even if opioids were not the “drug of choice.”
While there is no easy answer in determining medical treatment, the best plan is to have a plan. Nobody can define your recovery for you. Instead, it’s essential to set your intentions and obtain additional support during this trying time.