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What medications are safe to use in recovery?

If there is one question that I am asked regularly by alcoholics and addicts, it is “What medications are safe to use in recovery?”

The answer is this: All medications have the potential to be abused, some much more than others.

The first thing you should do is be upfront with your physician/nurse practitioner and pharmacist about your addiction. Although some “addictive” medications (stimulants in cold medications, short term opiates, etc.) may be appropriate for you, medical professionals may have other suggestions that would work just as well and put your recovery at much less risk.

Recently, I was able to attend a seminar at which Dr. Marv Seppala, was speaking. He shared a story of a person who did notify his physician that he was an addict prior to a minor surgery and yet that physician still tried to prescribe a large amount of opiate medication — in fact, a great deal more than would be needed for that particular procedure. If you come upon a situation like this, get a second opinion. Better yet, try to work with an addiction specialist, if possible.

Have a conversation with your doctor about what to expect after the procedure so the two of you can plan accordingly. As a person in recovery, you need to advocate for yourself. Ask for help from your sponsor as well.

As a general rule, there are certain medications that should be avoided by people in recovery. Be sure to read labels carefully on medications as some of the secondary ingredients may have addictive properties such as:

  • any medication containing pseudoephedrine, diphenhydramine or dextromethorphan contained in such brands as Sudafed, Dayquil, Theraflu, Benadryl, Robitussin DM or any other “DM” cough syrup
  • prescription opiates of all kinds such as in Tylenol #3, Percocet, Vicodin, Darvocet
  • all benzodiazepines including Ativan, Xanax, Klonopin, Valium
  • stimulants such as diet pills or ADHD medications such as in Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, phentermine
  • sleep agents with addictive properties including Tylenol PM, Advil PM, Ambien, Lunesta
  • all preparations that have an alcohol base such as mouthwash and cough syrup

If this list seems large, it is only to bring attention to some agents that could put you at risk. If you and your doctor do feel that the above medications are to be used, they should be used with caution under close supervision by your provider and for only a brief period of time. None should be used long term. A well-trained addiction medicine physician should be able to provide you with alternatives.

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Related Reading:

Relapse Prevention Therapy Workbook, Revised Edition
Counseling for Relapse Prevention
Relapse Prevention With Sex Offenders
Nursing2014 Drug Handbook (Nursing Drug Handbook)