Pain medication and alcoholism

I am an alcoholic.  I came to that conclusion really years before I admitted it and stopped drinking.  I may not have drunk alcohol for a little over 12 years now but I’m still an alcoholic and I’ll always be an alcoholic.  That is my position on it – particularly after my last year or so of drinking which had periods of respite but then when I started to drink “normally” (It never was normal frankly … ever!) soon it was back, way off the scale, as bad if not worse than ever before.  The simple premise behind the AA programme that the first drink is the one that gets you drunk allows me a simple way to deal with my addiction.  Don’t drink, I don’t then crave the next and the next and the next and therefore I don’t get drunk.  Simple.

If only it were that easy.  My drug of choice was alcohol, it did the trick for me in numbing me from emotions, fuelled my delusions and allowed me to abdicate my responsibilities to myself, my life, my family, my friends, my career etc.  But having listened to all sorts of addicts talk about why they used whatever mind altering substance they chose I relate to it all, apart from the drug of choice.  I’m an addict who chose alcohol.

For me this was drilled in my earliest recovery at a 12 step rehab with people with a plethora of first choice addictions.  We did some complicated questionnaires whilst I was there.  From this it was shown that alcohol was my number one issue with addiction (no shit Sherlock!) but also food was up there, I food binge when stressed or alone I know, there were others.  However for me drugs were never much of a feature in my life or in my addiction.

But I now know that I’m an addict and am very wary of my clever addict brain finding a way to trick me back into active alcoholism of something else.  Exile of Pain Street asked me about this in my current recuperation from my operation.  The answer is Yes I am wary, very wary.  Perhaps too much so.   Here’s my experience in recovery.

You’ll be aware if you’re a regular/long term reader that I’ve suffered with tinnitus and vertigo problems for ages, since shortly after I got sober.  There is a good chance I suffered before with the vertigo but never noticed just blaming it on the booze!  Anyway.  First diagnosis was Migraine Associated Vertigo and I was prescribed a combination medicine with paracetamol, codeine and something to help the nausea of the vertigo.  Codeine.  I’d heard about that from many alcoholics in recovery about how as a prescription medication that became their new love, Achilles heel. etc.  It is an opiate, in the body it is converted to morphine… so essentially has the same effect as heroine.

The box had loads of warning about not using for more than so many days at a time.  I was worried.  Petrified actually!  I avoided taking it at all.  That was considered dumb by some of the doctors.  So I tried again using it only as prescribed.  I’ll be frank here I only took it when I was feeling somewhat spaced out in an attack anyway but realistically for me it didn’t seem to do very much.  I’ve taken it sparingly for that condition over the last decade with no need to worry about it.  I can happily not take it for months and months then just for a couple of days.  However with the new diagnosis of Ménière’s Disease that isn’t considered an effective treatment anyway.

Up to date.  I come around from my operation last week.  I felt bloody awful.  I had a memory of being violently sick which the nurse confirmed.  Was I in pain?  Well yes but not the worst I’ve ever know at all.  They rigged up an IV of a paracetamol solution.  After an hour or so on the recovery ward they transferred me to a ward for overnight care, removing the iv before doing so.  On the ward they asked again and checked my notes.  They asked if I wanted paracetamol or codeine.  I went for paracetamol.

I was on a ward with a bunch of generally younger guys, most in 20s/30s.  They all asked for oral morphine.  One was refused as the prescription on his notes had run out.  He was offered codeine instead until he saw a doctor in the morning.  A while later they are waking me up, wanting me on my feet moving and going to the toilet.  The question of more pain relief was asked as I winced getting back on the bed.  I said paracetamol refusing the oral morphine.  The nurse took my notes with her.  She returned with tablets and water.  She asked again if I didn’t want the morphine.  I declined.  She said this was codeine and that she’d monitor my use carefully.  She slipped my notes back in the holder at the foot of the bed and asked or more stated really “Alcoholic?”  I nodded.  “Don’t be too brave.  Take the medication”.   I have to say I was impressed.  I know I always tell medical folks when they ask.  It clearly is in my notes then and someone can put two and two together.

I was discharged with some codeine, enough for about a week.  I’ve taken the lower dose as instructed and tomorrow a week after the op I’ll stop.

Sorry Exile a long ramble from me (as ever!) but this is like a bunch of things for me in recovery a topic I have to be cognizant of at times like this, always vigilant about and honest about to myself, my family, my friends and to medical professionals.


About furtheron

Music and guitar obsessive who is a recovering alcoholic to boot
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12 Responses to Pain medication and alcoholism

  1. An excellent read for anyone in recovery. Just because it’s not your drug of choice does NOT mean you’re safe! I’ve not had more than root canal in recovery, so I’ve only had to turn down narcotic pain medicine in terms of that procedure. It’s great to read that one can survive a lot without having to turn to it. Hope you are on the mend, Graham!

  2. I was wondering if you were taking any pain meds. I’ve had a couple surgeries since getting sober and made sure all my doctors knew I am an alcoholic. I was prescribed oxycodone in minimal amounts, and I took the minimum doses, getting off it as soon as I could stand the pain. Luckily, I hated how th drug made me felt — just sleepy and dopey. I know people without alcoholism who get hooked on the stuff, so I am grateful that did not become an issue for me.

    Great post.

  3. daisyfae says:

    Thanks for enlightening me on something that had never occurred to me… the ability to take pain medication when needed is something I have long taken for granted, with no concern of addiction. You are wise to be wary, but that was a good nurse who flagged it – and encouraged you not to suffer needlessly. You are so mindful of your addiction, I am confident you will keep this at bay… Here’s to a speedy, and complete, recovery!

  4. Ditto to wishing you well after your op. I’m in awe of your self-awareness and applaud your honesty. If I had a cap, I’d doff it.

  5. Very sticky situation! Pain meds do help in surgical recovery, but yet there’s that whole ADDICTIVE SUBSTANCE thing… I think you’ll be fine, however since you are hyper aware of that. Be well!

  6. Thank you, Graham!
    I have only had a few tablets of some type of pain meds, after my cochlear implant, and I kept throwing it up, so ended up with tylenol any way.
    After my all my teeth stuff, I got some codine stuff, and took it for one day, then didn’t need it.
    Makes me feel weird, and doesn’t really help the pain.
    Now I have more information so I can ask better questions!~

  7. Fascinating. I’ve always wondered but never felt comfortable enough asking anyone. Thanks for allowing that. This site continues to be a constant source of honestly, mysteries solved and inspiration. And you can use Mark. My name is out there all over the place anyway. Seems more appropriate.

  8. ainsobriety says:

    I’ve taken Tylenol 3 with codeine for migraines for many many years.
    When I quit drinking I considered that..but I have honestly tried every treatment and when my migraines are bad, I need it.

    I’ve had a huge bottle for years. Codeine never did anything fun for me. It makes the world fuzzy and dull. I hate that.

    I think caution is always the best start, and then personal experience fits in. If I felt any urge to take the codeine without a headache I would remove it from my house.

  9. looby says:

    I could definitely get into codeine! I was given it once for my arthritis and found it a most enjoyable experience 🙂 So as you say, it pays to be self-aware. Best of luck with the recovery.

  10. byebyebeer says:

    This is a topic of great interest to me too and I have always wondered how I’d handle myself in a similar situation. You give me hope. I sure hope you’re feeling better soon – rest and heal!

  11. Liz Hinds says:

    That’s really interesting, something I wouldn’t even have considered. Well done, you.

  12. secantblog says:

    Great post, you are wise to be cautious I think!

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