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Recovery and Medication

Updated: Jun 10, 2019

If you are in recovery and take medication, are you still in recovery? What about prescriptions pain medication? Medical marijuana? CBD? This is a very tough question and very controversial in the recovering community. We will do our best to answer this as objectively as possible.

Substances and the Brain

Practically speaking, the brain knows one thing. How much dopamine is released by this substance or behavior? This is how the brain is driven to reproduce behavior. If you are sober, lose your sense of taste, drink several glasses of alcohol, your brain doesn't care that it was an accident. You still get drunk and you still will have a dopamine release. This does not mean a spiral back into active addiction is inevitable, but it will cause some issues. While the brain can definitely heal and change, memories don't go away. That feeling of being drunk will have a cascading effect of memories, lighting up old neural pathways. These associations don't go away because of abstinence. A simple way to understand this for many people, addicted or not, is through food. If you have ever tried to change your diet, it's quite simple to maintain while you are in it. If you slip up and eat that one food that really sets you off, it is easy to fall right back into old eating habits overnight. It is the same with drugs and other behaviors, because they all engage these same areas of the brain. Avoidance of these substances and behaviors is recommended.

How to be Safe

In order to be safe, we recommend staying away from any substance or behavior you have an issue with. We also recommend talking to a professional to determine what behaviors or substances you may be unaware of that could trigger this process. Now, what substances are problematic? CBD appears to have no effect on these areas of the brain and produces no desirable sensation, in the same way that acetaminophen does not. Other substances, like marijuana do. This substance is becoming more medicinally and generally accepted, which is fine, but alcohol used to be medicine and is completely legal, so these arguments fail. Marijuana will work for some time, but ultimately compel the individual back to whatever substance they prefer. Medication such as gabapentin will have the same issue. This is cross-addictive behavior.

Therefore, we do not recommend marijuana maintenance or other medication like gabapentin. Other prescription medications, such as opiates or stimulants should also be avoided. First, they may be the individual's drug of choice. If not, the brain will still be affected and increase the chances of return to the substance of choice. Of course, this cannot be entirely avoided. It is possible that you may wake up after a car accident and find yourself on pain medication. Or you may have surgery that we'll be very painful. Taking pain medication can be done for brief periods of time, but we recommend doing so with the support of family, friends, sober supports, your doctor, and a counselor.


The bottom line with this issue is, what are your motives, and do you really know if your motives are your true motives. It is hard to tell with substance use or addictive behavior. However, there is a caveat. Can you be on certain substances for life just because you have good motives? The answer is no. If you've had a drug or behavior problem, the odds of successfully being on prescription medication which produces a noticeable effect without there being issues and complications is slim to none. Utimately the brain does not care about motives. Individuals with pure motives develop addiction towards prescription pain medication every single day, and the brain was not interested in the fact that a legitimate injury existed. So, while motives are important, it is also important to be able to take an objective and realistic look at the situation, which may require outside help.

Independent Recovery

At Independent Recovery, we understand your unique situation. We will work with you and your recovery goals. While we may not agree with all of your choices, we will educate you and ultimately help you to try what you need to try in order to progress into recovery. We definitely recommend not testing these waters on your own. Reach out to us for a free consultation.