Relapsing On Prescription Drugs…Or Not

Written by Dr. Dawn V. Obrecht on Monday, 21 January 2013. Posted in Voices in Recovery, Dr. Dawn V. Obrecht, Breaking News, Prescription Drugs

Relapsing On Prescription Drugs…Or Not

Dawn V. Obrecht, M.D

John is in recovery from prescription drug addiction. A doctor, he had and still has access to any and every legal narcotic in this country. At about 20 years of clean time, he needed major surgery, a hip replacement. This is major orthopedic surgery requiring the cutting of bone, something we know causes pain. The way John tells it, he was much more afraid of relapsing to addiction than of a few days of pain. His doctors reluctantly agreed to let him decide after surgery what he would accept for pain relief. Hearing him decline pain meds and not understanding that addiction is waiting in the wings to kill us, they thought he was crazy, but allowed him to refuse narcotics. John admits that his pain for the first 3 days or so following surgery was significant, even a 9 out of 10. He also explains that he detached from it. He simply did not acknowledge the pain. I’m not sure that I am adequately explaining this, but he says that he had just made a decision to not use narcotics. He was willing to tolerate a few days of severe pain and not risk relapse to a killer disease, one he had survived for 2 decades.

I saw him 3 weeks later at an NA convention and he had just come from the gym. While I don’t recommend refusing pain meds after surgery, I do respect and understand his choice. I also know that post-operative pain resolves significantly if not 100% in days, not weeks or months. If those of us in recovery, whether from narcotics, alcohol, other drugs or all of the above, do choose to use mind-altering medication after surgery, we must be very cautious and limit the amount and duration, throwing out remaining drugs as soon as we can…usually after only several days. Tissue heals and pain stops; the craving set up by returning to use does not stop until we discontinue the drugs.

Doctors don’t understand addiction unless they have been there. While there are lots of recovering docs, most of us don’t find one in our community. Even if we do, we still get to take responsibility for our own recovery; we get to do what we need to do to avoid relapse and to decline all but the most necessary of mind-altering drugs.

I have had 4 significant surgeries in my almost 29 years of recovery. Not as willing to tolerate pain as my friend John, I accepted a few low dose narcotic pills each time. On three occasions, I took pain meds only the night after the actual surgery, just 2 pills each time for knee, hand and major dental procedures...and I am not a tough guy…this was really all I needed before switching to Tylenol. After the fourth surgery, a major abdominal procedure, I took low dose narcotic medication for about 4 days, primarily at night. I did not relapse; I do believe everyone, even alcoholics and addicts deserve relief from major pain. Just be careful, tell those in recovery who are close to you what you are doing and don’t let anyone prescribe more than you need for a few days! Write to me if you have experiences to share.


If you or anyone that you love is struggling with drug addiction or alcoholism, please call or text us. We want to help you.

Copyright, Dawn V. Obrecht, M.D. Jan, 2013

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About the Author

Dr. Dawn V. Obrecht

Dr. Dawn V. Obrecht

“From the Edge of the Cliff: Understanding the Two Phases of Recovery and Becoming the Person You’re Meant To Be” provides those recovering from drug and/or alcohol abuse with practical lessons on how to understand and successfully navigate the two-phases of recovery.

“Dawn V. Obrecht, M.D., was graduated from the University Of Maryland School Of Medicine and did an internship in general surgery and residency in emergency medicine. She has been the medical director of a chemical dependency unit and is a professor at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. For many years she had a busy family medicine practice. Licensed in several states, she now travels to small, rural communities, filling in for physicians who need time off.

“Having been in recovery from drug addiction for over a quarter century, Dr. Obrecht uses her experience with life-threatening illness to identify with and help others to heal and to hear God. DocDawn lives in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, with her husband, Erik Landvik, where she writes and consults in addiction medicine between her travels.

She is the author of several books, including, From the Edge of the Cliff, available at www.docdawn.com and on Amazon.

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