Christian Addiction Recovery and the Medication Dilemma – How to Prevent Relapse (and Avoid Developing a New Addiction)

Whether you’ve been through Christian addiction treatment or a secular recovery program, you know that the journey to sobriety requires taking one step at a time. Along that path, though, life presents obstacles. Perhaps you require a surgery and will need pain medication. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with a mental condition, such as panic disorder or ADHD, which is typically treated with a prescription drug. So when something happens that requires you to take a medication that could trigger a relapse, you need an action plan that helps you stay sober and healthy.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been sober for 2 months or 20 years; the addiction rewired your brain to seek out substances that flood your body with feel-good chemicals. That means the need for potentially addicting medications makes you especially vulnerable to relapse.

If you are in recovery and require medication (for example, to relieve pain following surgery or to treat a condition you’ve developed), the first step is to educate yourself. It’s important to understand which medications have the potential to trigger a relapse. These medications include:

  • ADD/ADHD treatments, such as Adderall, Concerta, and Ritalin
  • Anti-anxiety medications, especially benzodiazepines such as Ativan, Valium, and Xanax
  • Pain medications, such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, meperidine (Demerol), and carisoprodol (Soma)
  • Sleep aids and sedatives, such as Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata

This is not a complete list of medications you should avoid if you’re in recovery for substance abuse or addiction. Never assume that any medication your physician prescribes is non-addicting. Always alert any physician who treats you or pharmacist who fills your prescription that you have a history of addiction. When you’re prescribed a medication, always ask about the drug’s potential addictive qualities as well as its side effects and interactions. If the drug is potentially addictive, ask if there are non-addictive alternatives available.

Because of the fundamental change in an addict’s brain biology, it’s also essential to be aware of the danger of developing a new addiction. For example, if you are an alcoholic in Christian addiction treatment, it’s possible to acquire an addiction to pain-relieving opioids that are often prescribed following surgery, such as morphine or oxycodone.

7 Tips for Avoiding a Relapse

  1. Create a plan – Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid the need for a specific medication, such as a narcotic. Always work with addiction specialists and physicians to develop a plan that will manage the medication in a way that’s effective and lowers the risk for relapse. Remember, physicians have an ethical obligation to help you find a treatment plan that does not sabotage recovery. If you ever feel a health professional is not taking concerns about addiction relapse seriously, get a second opinion.
  2. Enlist a medication monitor – Ask a trusted family member or friend to monitor your prescription drug use during treatment or recovery. He or she should store the medication in a safe place and dispense the exact dosage to you as directed by the physician. The monitor should also throw away any leftover drugs as soon as the course of treatment is ended.
  3. Line up spiritual support – From your Christian addiction treatment aftercare team to a support group in a local church, seek out others able to provide the type of God-centered support you need during this tough time. It doesn’t matter whether you attend meetings more frequently or schedule a regular coffee break with a supportive pastor; the point is to have a team ready to support you in Christ’s name.
  4. Take time to nurture your spirit – “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). The stress of a medical problem that requires medication makes it easy to follow the path into relapse. Relieve some of those concerns by making time to place your trust in the Lord. Learn a new psalm to lift your spirit, add a few minutes of Bible time to the morning routine, or spend time in a place of worship. Seeking quiet moments with God will help bring the peace your soul needs to maintain sobriety.
  5. Help the healing process – Continue to give your body the best possible foundation for resisting relapse by keeping good habits. Be sure to get regular exercise. This will help boost the endorphins in your brain – natural chemicals that promote a sense of well-being. Also, remember to eat a healthy diet so your body and brain stay adequately nourished.
  6. Consider complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) – Medication may not be your only option. There are a number of treatments that can be effective but don’t fit the traditional medical model for pain and disease management. For example, TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) is a pain management option in which a small device delivers a very low dose of electrical current to affected nerves. The charge stimulates nerves, changing the way the brain perceives pain-and it does so in a non-addictive way. Other alternatives for pain management include:
    • Acupuncture
    • Chiropractic care
    • Meditation
    • Supplements, like probiotics or botanical products
    • Yoga

    Always consult your physician before trying CAM treatments to make sure they won’t interfere or interact with other therapies or medications.

  7. Stick with your aftercare program – The strategies you’ve already learned in your Christian addiction treatment program will also help you manage the need for a potentially addictive medication. Attend recovery meetings on a regular basis, and increase attendance if needed. Stay in touch with your sponsor, and let him or her know that you will be taking a medication. Not only will they be able to lend additional support, they will also be on alert for changes in your behavior or thinking that suggest a relapse. It may also be helpful to schedule extra therapy sessions with an addiction counselor or mental health specialist.

If you’ve been in Christian addiction treatment or another substance abuse rehab program, the idea of taking a potentially addicting prescription drug can trigger fear and anxiety. By creating a plan for effective treatment that reduces relapse risk and holding firm to your faith in God, you can maintain sobriety. Take heart in Paul’s words: “Be on your guard; stand firm in faith; be men of courage; be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13).