At any given time in the U.S., more than 15 million people are abusing prescription drugs. The overwhelming majority of these users (80%) got the drugs from a doctor, not a drug dealer or friend. Prescription drug addiction is the fastest-growing addiction in the United States, particularly among young people. Whether you’re addicted to prescription drugs or another substance, these medications pose a serious threat to your sobriety. Many medical conditions may afford you the chance to use potentially addictive prescription drugs. Avoiding these medications isn’t always possible, but when it is, you should take the opportunity to avoid risking a new or worsening addiction.
Be Open With Your Doctor
No matter how long you’re able to remain sober, you’ll need to tell every doctor you ever have about your history of addiction for the rest of your life. This allows your doctor to carefully weigh the risks and benefits of any particular drug, and may change the way your doctor monitors you. For example, some psychiatrists write three-month prescriptions for stimulants, but if you have an addictive disorder, your doctor will likely want to meet with you every month to monitor your symptoms and risk for addiction. If your doctor doesn’t take your addiction seriously or tells you that there’s no risk of relapse with potentially addictive drugs, it’s time to find a new physician.
Ask for an Alternative Drug
The simplest way to combat the risk of taking an addictive drug is to ask for a less addictive alternative. Oftentimes doctors prescribe a drug simply because they’re familiar with it or because most of their patients respond well to it. This doesn’t mean there’s not another option for you. Many addictive drugs have non-addictive alternatives, and a handful of very safe drugs can be used on an off-label basis to treat a variety of conditions for which addictive drugs are often prescribed. If you have depression, your symptoms can be well-managed with traditional antidepressants, not potentially addictive stimulants or nontraditional treatments. People with ADHD can take a drug called Strattera, a non-stimulant drug with a low potential for abuse.
If you need help managing chronic pain, your doctor can prescribe you a high dose of ibuprofen. If your pain becomes unmanageable, talk to your doctor about your options. Some doctors treat chronic pain with an epidural, which numbs the area. This option requires the doctor to administer the treatment, and is not something you can duplicate at home, thus reducing your risk of abuse.
Pursue Non-Medication Treatments
If you have a life-threatening health condition, you need to take the drugs your doctor prescribed. If your condition is a mere inconvenience, though, consider pursuing other treatment options. Mental health conditions are frequently well-managed with intensive therapy and lifestyle changes. Muscle pain is often responsive to regular exercise, massage, and a healthy diet. Some forms of diabetes respond well to dietary and lifestyle changes. Sleep problems may improve when you change your sleeping conditions or learn to better control stress. Ask your doctor if there’s a non-drug treatment available for your condition before agreeing to take a prescription drug.
Remaining Sober on Prescription Drugs
If you live long enough, the odds are high hat you’ll get a health condition that warrants use of a potentially addictive substance. While avoiding temptation altogether is the best strategy for protecting your long-term sobriety, sometimes your health demands that you take a drug that could trigger a relapse. To minimize your risks of reigniting your addiction, take the following steps:
- Ask your doctor to prescribe you the lowest dose she safely can.
- Take your medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor; don’t increase the dose, skip doses, or take the drug at varying times of the day.
- Tell your loved ones you’re taking a potentially addictive drug, and ask them to tell you if they notice any strange behavior.
- Consider asking someone else to hold onto your drugs for you. Your spouse, for example, could give you your daily drug dose, thus ensuring that you don’t take more than is necessary.
- Only take your drug when you’re having symptoms that necessitate treatment. For example, if you need painkillers, don’t take the medication because you think you might end up in pain; instead, take it only if you’re already experiencing pain.
- Don’t mix multiple drugs, and avoid drinking alcohol. If you’re taking two or more potentially addictive drugs, make sure your doctor(s) know about each medication.
- Monitor yourself for the early signs of addiction. If you find yourself looking forward to your daily pill, experiencing withdrawal symptoms, or behaving strangely when you take the medication, contact your doctor immediately.
- Rev up your addiction recovery support. Go back to your 12-step program or therapy, or call your old counselor at the rehab you attended.
- Focus on maintaining good health by eating regular meals and getting plenty of exercise. When your body is healthy and you remain busy, you’re less vulnerable to the temptation to abuse prescription medications.
- Keep track of your symptoms of addiction, as well as the symptoms of your medical condition. If the medication doesn’t help you get better, you may need to quit taking it. And if you develop early warning signs of addiction, you need to pursue help before things escalate out of control.