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Parents Ask: Are Prescription Drugs Safe in Recovery?

safest pain medication in recovery

For most people, prescription medications are considered to be safe. When taken responsibly and as prescribed, these drugs can be very effective in helping to treat various symptoms and disease. The problem is, prescription drugs are not always taken as prescribed. An estimated 18 million people have misused prescription medications in the last year – taking more than prescribed, more frequently than prescribed, longer than prescribed, or taking someone else’s medication altogether – with young adults and adolescents leading the pack.

Prescription drug abuse can lead anyone into the cycle of addiction, no matter their age or upbringing. In addition to addiction, many prescription drugs carry a risk of overdose.

Perhaps you are here because your son or daughter has battled a drug problem in the past. Maybe your daughter was prescribed Adderall for her attention-deficit disorder, or your son Percocet for an athletic injury, which then led to dependence on the medication. You may now be wondering if he/she can ever take prescription drugs again.

On the other hand, you may be here because your son or daughter is battling a whole other demon – such as cocaine or marijuana addiction – but you are still concerned about the safety of prescription drugs. Which prescription drugs are safe in recovery, if any, and are there alternatives?

If your son or daughter is in addiction recovery, it can be hard to understand what is (and isn’t) safe in terms of prescription drug use. As a parent, you likely don’t want your child to endure any more pain, whether that be from a headache, a broken bone, or a chronic disease. At the same time, however, you do not want anything – no matter how legal – to exacerbate his or her risk of relapse.

What is a Parent to Do?

First off, it is important to inform your physician about the problem at bay. Make sure your doctor understands your child’s history with addiction, as well as drug and alcohol use, and how that may complicate other conditions that arise (such as mental health and mood disorders, or even painful injuries). If you are looking for alternative treatment methods with low-to-no risk of addiction, make that known from the very beginning, so that you can discuss the other options available. You may consider looping your loved one’s addiction counselor, or a certified addiction psychiatrist, into these conversations to determine the best possible path for your teen.

You should also have an open dialogue with your child about the potential dangers of prescription medications, and weigh those with any symptoms that could trigger a relapse. For someone in recovery, stressful symptoms such as severe pain or depressive moods can reactivate drug cravings. It is important that you and your loved one monitor for these symptoms carefully, and discuss your different options with the prescribing doctor. Your doctor will be able to help you understand which medications are safest in the situation, as well as the safest possible dosage for your loved one at the time. Clinicians also understand how to take medications safely, and discontinue them safely as needed.

Are Prescription Opioids Safe in Recovery?

Prescription opioids, commonly referred to as prescription painkillers or pain medication, are designed to treat chronic and acute pain. They are prescribed in a variety of cases, ranging from post-op care to cancer treatments, and when used as prescribed, can be an effective component of therapy. However, serious risks are associated with painkiller use – particularly in today’s age of a national opioid crisis.

Are prescription pain medications safe? This is one of the most common questions we hear in the recovery community. Currently, prescription opioids like oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and fentanyl are all classified as Schedule II drugs. Schedule II drugs are defined by the DEA as “drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. These drugs are also considered dangerous.” In recovery, prescription opioids are not recommended. This is for a couple of different reasons:

On one hand, opioids are highly addictive. If your son or daughter has had problems with addiction in the past, no matter the substance, there is a high potential for addiction using this type of drug. With prolonged use of opioids, a physical addiction can develop in four weeks, but a psychological dependence can develop in as little as two days. According to government sources, roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them, and between 8 and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder. About 80 percent of people who abuse heroin first started with prescription opioid drugs.

Additionally, these drugs carry a high potential for overdose. In 2017, more than 47,000 Americans died as a result of an opioid overdose. The risk is even higher for someone in recovery, who in the past, had built a tolerance to drugs. Often, those returning to drug use after a period of abstinence will take the same, large dosages they used to take at the time of their addiction – but their bodies can no longer handle the amount. This can lead to overdose. Not to mention, more and more opioid drugs today (those found on the streets, but being sold as prescription drugs) are laced with dangerous substances like fentanyl, which is driving an alarming number of opioid overdoses in the United States.

Safe Pain Medications in Recovery

As detailed in our article on SMART Recovery, there are several alternative – both natural and over the counter – treatments for those experiencing pain in recovery. These do not involve highly-addictive opioid drugs, but instead, safer methods of pain relief. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Over-the-counter acetaminophen (i.e. Tylenol)
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen
  • Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors, also known as anti-depressants
  • Massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic care
  • Mindfulness and meditation
  • Exercise (which has been known to relieve chronic back pain, joint pain, arthritis, and more)
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

What Other Medicines Should You Watch Out For in Recovery?

Benzodiazepines: Often referred to as “benzos,” these prescription drugs are used to treat anxiety or problems with sleep. However, they are also on the list of the most addictive prescription drugs today, falling under brand names like Xanax and Valium. For those in recovery, it is recommended that you consult with your doctor and an addiction psychiatrist to determine alternative methods of dealing with anxiety and related mental health disorders. Because according to modern research, therapy for anxiety is more effective than prescription medications long-term.

Prescription and Psycho- Stimulants: Stimulants are a class of drugs that enhance brain activity. Similarly to cocaine, prescription stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin act quickly on the brain to boost a user’s alertness and energy level. While traditionally prescribed to people with ADHD and related disorders, today prescription stimulants are often misused for increased academic performance, and therefore have a high abuse potential. For those with ADHD and in recovery, there are alternative treatments such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) with low potential for addiction.

Prescription drug abuse and addiction is not uncommon, particularly among adolescents and young adults. As a parent, it is important to know that there are ways that you, and your loved one, can handle medication management throughout the recovery process. As much as you want to say goodbye to all pills and mind-altering drugs, you do not always have to in the recovery. Rather, it is important that you find safe, alternative treatments by talking with your child, your physician, and an addiction psychiatrist. By communicating clearly about addiction and substance use, you can establish the healthiest path for your loved one into the future. For more information on safe prescription medications in recovery, please do not hesitate to reach out to Turnbridge at 877-581-1793.