Prescription Medications in Recovery: Safe or Unsafe?
For people with the disease of addiction, the topic of prescription medication is a sensitive one. In recovery, staying away from addictive substances is everything. It’s not realistic, however, for people to avoid all prescription or over-the-counter medicines. That’s why it’s important for recovering addicts and alcoholics to be careful with and informed about the medications they choose to take in sobriety.
What Medications are Safe?
The majority of medications are non-addictive and safe for recovering addicts to take. It’s a must, however, for people to tell their doctors about their history of addiction. When a doctor knows a patient is in recovery, they will be sure to suggest or prescribe non-addictive medications. Antibiotics are generally safe, and so are antidepressants and antipsychotics. Many addicts have a dual diagnosis, which means they have the disease of addiction along with another type of mental illness. For people with dual diagnoses, antidepressants and antipsychotics may be necessary in order for them to function normally in society and sustain their sobriety.
What Medications are Unsafe?
Any medications that are considered addictive or habit-forming are unsafe for people in recovery to take. There are rare occasions when a person who is recovering from one type of drug addiction can take a different type of addictive medication in recovery without developing a dependency, but the risk is generally too great to take. Once again, it’s so important for any doctors to know about a patient’s history of substance abuse.
In general, all opiates, benzodiazepines, and stimulants have addictive properties. Sleep aids with addictive properties (i.e. Advil PM, Tylenol PM, Ambien, Lunesta) are unsafe. Medications that contain dextromethorphan, pseudoephedrine, and diphenhydramine are unsafe (i.e. Sudafed, Dayquil, Theraflu, Benadryl, Robitussin DM, or any medication with “DM.”) Any medications that contain alcohol are also unsafe. All controlled substances and drugs considered Class/Schedule 1-5 by the DEA are potentially unsafe.
In general, all antibiotics, antidepressants, antacids, topical creams, and vitamins are safe. Pain relievers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, and NSAIDs are safe (i.e. Tylenol, Advil, Aleve, Aspirin, Excedrin). Sleep aids with non-addictive properties are safe (i.e. Abilify, Seroquel, Buspar). Many medications used to manage cravings are safe, like naltrexone or Antabuse.
Safe or Unsafe? The Gray Area
There are many medications that fall into a “gray area” when it comes to safety for the recovering addict, and a doctor can determine if they’d be appropriate or not for their patients. Most muscle relaxants, laxatives, allergy medications, and nasal sprays, for example, are in the gray area. Medications used to manage addiction can also be in the gray area if they have the potential to be abused, such as methadone or Suboxone. Any “gray area” medications should only be used under strict medical supervision. Many people have differing opinions regarding prescription medication in recovery, which is why it’s recommended that recovering addicts see doctors who are addiction specialists. There are some people in recovery who reject all medications, which is their right to do so. Because medications are often necessary, it’s important for people to make personal choices (under the guidance of a physician) that don’t threaten their recovery. For a detailed list of safe and unsafe medications in recovery, check out the Talbott Recovery Campus Medication Guide for a Safe Recovery.