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The Risk of Relapse After Surgeries or Injuries

As a clinician and person in long-term recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, I have witnessed people relapse after having surgery or sustaining physical injuries. The use of narcotic medications necessary in these situations often brings back “the obsession” or “craving” to return to active addiction. Even taking a narcotic medication as prescribed can be enough to awaken the sleeping giant of our addiction. Often it is not possible to treat certain medical conditions without the use of narcotics- specifically opiates and benzodiazepines, so what is the responsible way a recovering addict can manage a surgery or physical injury?

This is one clinicians experience in managing this condition safely:

  • Be sure that the MD knows your full addiction history. Many people have the false belief that an MD will refuse to prescribe narcotics to a person in recovery- this is untrue. MD’s have an ethical obligation to treat the patient’s pain level and cannot do so unless they know how the patient has previously tolerated narcotics.
  • Ask MD to write out prescription that specifies clear times and dosages of medications as opposed to being prescribed on an “as needed” or PRN basis. Ask for further teaching and discharge planning from the MD when returning home after surgery. This can eliminate any gray areas where taking more than the recommended dosage of the medication could occur. Be sure to have a scheduled taper to discontinue the medication at an agreed upon timeframe.
  • Consider allowing a loved one to hold and administer the narcotic medications. This can eliminate anxiety and ensure that the medication is taken exactly as prescribed.
  • Don’t be afraid of utilizing Holistic Methods of pain and anxiety reduction such as acupuncture, massage, hypnotherapy and any other method of self- care approved by the treating MD.
  • Discuss Relapse Warning Signs and give loved ones permission to “call you out” if your behaviors are looking suspect.
  • Utilize the aid of a trusted therapist, sponsor, nurse and any other social recovery support system.

Life happens and so does physical pain. We don’t get sober to be miserable. We are the only ones who know how much physical pain we are in. It is possible to treat severe pain effectively, although the use of narcotic medications can be inherently dangerous to a recovering addict.

Talk to your family and MD about the best options for pain management – be honest and stay safe!

AToN Center 888-535-1516