By Elizabeth Rosselle

So you think that bottle of doctor-prescribed Norcos (Hydrocodone-Acetaminophen) in your medicine cabinet is a harmless little remedy for your back pain? Perhaps for some people it is when used as directed, but if you’re an addict in recovery? Think again.

Prescription narcotics and benzodiazepines (or benzos) are highly addictive, but many people don’t realize it because these pills are prescribed by doctors. Unfortunately, however, for those of us in recovery, or anyone who’s prone to addiction, taking them can be a slippery slope that can lead us right back into the throes of our disease if we’re not careful.

My Doctor Says it’s Ok. What’s the Harm?

If you’re a sober addict and you’ve been prescribed narcotics or benzos for a good reason, whatever that might be, we can’t tell you to stop taking advice from your own medical professional. We’re not here to play doc. Please use your best judgment, but proceed with caution, talk to your sponsor, and take them as prescribed if you really feel there’s no other option.

But we digress. Let’s get to the meat of this and talk about just how and why prescription medication can be just as dangerous as street drugs are, if not more so.

Prescription Drug Use Kills More People than Illegal Drugs

Street drugs are bad, period. If you’re in recovery and you decide to shoot dope again, well, you’ve relapsed. It’s pretty black and white. And one of the biggest dangers of street drugs is that they’re not regulated like prescription drugs. Unless you’re cooking them up in your bathtub, then you have no real way of knowing where they’re from, what they’ve been cut with, or how strong they are. Some fentanyl with your cocaine, anyone? Mmmm, sounds divine. It also sounds straight-up deadly, because it is.

Illegal street drugs will put you in the danger zone fast, so we’re not advocating those either. But did you know that prescription drug use kills more people every year than all illegal drugs combined? In the US, for example, Vicodin and Oxycontin alone are responsible for more overdoses than cocaine and heroin, and yet pharmaceutical companies just keep on growing. And the more they grow, the more available these drugs become, thus the more they’re abused.

Benzos & Narcotics: Addictive and Can Easily Lead to Heroin Use

Taking pharmaceuticals without consulting a doctor or following the recommended dose is never a good idea. It can be dangerous and potentially fatal, but even under a doctor’s guidance, there are risks. And if you identify as an addict, the risks are compounded by how highly addictive prescription pills can be. It really boils down to your condition, your tolerance, and the drug itself.

Benzos and narcotics can cause horrible withdrawal symptoms as well, which is another reason why people can have such a hard time getting off of them. Moreover, once you become addicted, you’re generally going to be dependent on your doctor to supply you with more. Once the doc or your insurance cuts you off, an easier (and cheaper) alternative is heroin, which is a surprisingly common leap for many people. You see where this is going, right?

If you’re currently in recovery, it’s good to be aware of just how real the threat of a relapse is, if and when you choose to take addictive prescription pills. If you have a surgery coming up, or if your doctor is prescribing something that you question the addictive nature of, make sure to address your addiction with the doctor first. If your doctor has experience with addiction, then he or she may be able to provide you with non-addictive alternatives. If they can’t provide you with a solution you’re comfortable with, then consider having a conversation with your sponsor, or another sober confidante who can provide some sound advice.

The Bottom Line: Do your Due Diligence

The long and short of all of this is that, yes, prescription meds can be just as dangerous as street drugs (or more so) if not carefully monitored. To drive the point home even further, consider celebrities like Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Heath Ledger, Jimi Hendrix, and Elvis Presley, among others, all of whom died from prescription drug overdoses. These drug-related deaths are not isolated incidents, but they happen to be well known cases. Fatal prescription drug overdoses happen every day, and they happen to all types of people from all walks of life.

The misuse of pharmaceuticals has been going on since the 1800s, and while we’re not seeing significant signs of slowing, we can still do our due diligence to stay on top of what the risks are. Once again, we’re not here to play doctor. If you’re an addict, and a medical professional wants to prescribe narcotics or benzos for a serious condition of yours, please make sure you’ve talked to your sponsor and done your homework. And search for alternatives if and when available.

There’s a lot of controversy over whether or not the use of addictive prescription pills qualifies as a relapse. There are also many factors at play in terms of how you’re using them, and whether or not you’re abusing them. For all intents and purposes, our position on the subject remains neutral. At the end of the day, you’re the only one who truly knows if you’re abusing a substance. Not being able to stop is usually a pretty good indicator that you’ve reached this point. Our advice is to simply stay informed, and to know your own limits.

Do you have any personal experiences with addictive medications that you’d like to share with us? Let us know in the comments below. Also, if you or a loved one thinks that you may have a problem abusing prescription drugs, or any other substance for that matter, please contact us right away. We’re here to help.

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