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Using Pain Medication in Recovery

By Scott Mitchell, LCDC

There are times in recovery in which an individual finds himself in a position to be in need of pain medication. These times include serious injuries and surgical/dental procedures. There can be times when pain medications are medically necessary. Relapse occurs when the medication is used outside of the parameters of the health care provider’s instruction or prescription. Knowing that pain medication can trigger the phenomenon of craving, especially if it is the drug of the choice of the person in question, it is important that the individual take precautions. If the pain medication is not the drug of choice, it can still trigger back to the individual’s original drug of choice and the same precautions apply.

In the event of medical or dental conditions that require pain medication, the following is recommended:

  • Ask to have the medication prescribed for only 2 days. If your pain persists longer than that, return to the healthcare provider to determine why you are still having pain.
  • Have the medication kept in the possession of a trusted friend or family member who will distribute them to you only at the appropriate prescribed dosing times.
  • Be aware of obsessive thoughts that may occur about the pain or the medication. Go to your sponsor or therapist and discuss this.
  • Double up your support for at least 30 days after finishing the medication regimen. Once you take a narcotic pain medication you have the possibility of experiencing cravings for that 30 day period. So, go to extra 12 Step meetings, help others twice as much, and interact with people in recovery as much as possible. Talk about your thoughts of using as soon as they occur with peers and professionals. Utilize prayer and meditation more frequently.

If it becomes apparent that a narcotic pain reliever is needed such as hydrocodone, codeine, or other similar medications, the following actions are recommended:

  • Be completely honest with your healthcare provider regarding addiction history.
  • You may opt to try alternatives to narcotics such as anti-inflammatories, alternating ibuprofen and acetaminophen, or using other non-narcotic pain medications such as Toradol. Note: the use of Ultram or Tramadol is not recommended.
  • There are other alternative pain management techniques that may be appropriate such as TENS Units, acupuncture, meditation, etc. Your healthcare provider can assist you in determining your best options.