Taking Medicines Safely after Alcohol or Drug Abuse Recovery

The decision to stop using alcohol and drugs is very important to your health. Recovery and learning how to live without these substances is hard. You should talk to your doctor about this process. Make sure they have experience with addiction. They can offer support and treatment for any physical and mental health issues.

Common problems in the first few months of recovery include:

  • trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • mood changes, such as irritability, anger, and anxiety
  • depression or thoughts of suicide
  • problems with sex.

You also could have ongoing health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic pain. Your doctor can help you decide what and how much medicine you should take after recovery.

In the past, you may not have been honest with your doctor about alcohol and/or drug use. If you abused prescription medicines, you may be uncomfortable telling your doctor. You may be afraid that if you share this information, they won’t prescribe medicines at all. No matter what your past relationship with your doctor was, going forward you need to be honest. This is the only way you will be successful in recovery.

Path to improved health

Each person’s recovery process is different. Some people may be able to take medicines, and others may not. Your doctor can help you figure out what is safe. In general, taking anxiety or pain medicines for a long time can increase your risk of a relapse. For this reason, your doctor may want you to try other forms of treatment. These alternative ways can help treat pain, anxiety, and insomnia. Options to treat pain include physical therapy or massage therapy. You also can try applying heat or ice to the area that hurts. Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation, can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.

Non-opiate (not addictive) pain medicines can help relieve pain if other methods don’t work. If your doctor prescribes a medicine such as a benzodiazepine or an opiate, make sure you discuss the risk of relapse. The two of you should work together to find the safest treatment. If you are active in a 12-step program or self-help support group, tell your fellow members what medicines you take. This provides accountability.

Major depression is a serious medical condition. You may have had depression during your substance abuse or it may be a side effect of recovery. Typically, it needs to be treated with an antidepressant. When prescribed and used correctly, antidepressants do not carry a risk of relapse. Based on your recovery status, your doctor will know if medicine is right for you. You may find that a self-help support group can help with depression. You should let your doctor know if you are a part of a group.

Things to consider

Many types of medicine include alcohol or ingredients that could affect you and trigger a relapse. These include prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines. You should not take any medicines without your doctor’s approval. Do not accept medicine from other people.

Other tips for safely taking medicines include:

  • Read the list of ingredients.
  • Read and follow dosage and instructions.
  • Choose products that are alcohol-free.
  • Avoid herbal supplements and weight-loss products.
  • Avoid nasal sprays.
  • Ask someone you trust to manage and dispense your medicines.

In addition to medicines, you should avoid other products that could cause a relapse. Examples include mouthwash, caffeine, and energy drinks. You also should avoid situations in which you may be tempted to use drugs or alcohol.

When to see a doctor

Contact your doctor right away if you have a relapse or thoughts of suicide.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How long does recovery last?
  • Will I ever be able to take medicine for health problems without the risk of relapse?
  • What are alternative forms of treatment?


National Institute on Drug Abuse

Ridgeview Institute, Safe Drug Use for the Recovering Addict or Alcoholic