Taking Medicines Safely after Alcohol or Drug Abuse Recovery

Last Updated September 2022 | This article was created by familydoctor.org editorial staff and reviewed by Kyle Bradford Jones

Taking medicines after recovering from alcohol or drug addiction can be tricky. Talk to your doctor about this. They can let you know which ones are safe.

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 anymore. Going forward, you need to be honest. This is the only way you’ll be successful in recovery and in helping your doctor optimize your health.

Path to improved health

Each person’s recovery process is different. Some people may be able to take medicines, and others may not. If you have an ongoing health problem, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic pain, your doctor can discuss with you the medicine you should take or other therapies to be healthy after recovery.

In general, there are some medicines that may increase your risk of going back to your addiction (a relapse). That’s why your doctor may want you to try other forms of treatment. These alternative ways can 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 as well as help with chronic pain.

Your doctor may suggest non-opiate (not addictive) pain medicines to help relieve pain if other methods don’t work. If your doctor prescribes a medicine such as a an opiate, make sure you discuss the risk of relapse. You and your doctor should work together to find the safest treatment.

If you’re 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. It is often treated with an antidepressant. When prescribed and used correctly, antidepressants don’t carry a risk of relapse. Based on your recovery status, your doctor will know if medicine is right for you. You may want to find a self-help support group to help with depression. Your doctor can suggest groups in your area. Also, let your doctor know if you’re a part of a group.

Things to consider

Many types of medicine include alcohol or ingredients that could trigger a relapse. These include prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines. You shouldn’t take any medicines without your doctor’s approval. Don’t 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 will recovery take?
  • Will I ever be able to take medicine for health problems without the risk of relapse?
  • What alternative forms of treatment are best for me?
  • Where can I find a support group?