More Thoughts on Pain Management in Sobriety

The other day I wrote about my experiences with prescription pain meds following surgery and I have been inundated with comments and emails since. You can read the post here and please be sure to read the comments because there’s some important information added by readers.

So many readers indicated they planned to save the list of recommendations that I’ve put them into this graphic that can be saved or printed:


After absorbing all the feedback, it hits home that we really can’t expect anyone else to care about our recovery more than we do. Even the most well-meaning health as professional can be wrong, misinformed, or blasé about the risks of prescription pain medications.

Many of us who have struggled with alcohol have codependent tendencies, meaning we are inclined to care a little too much what other people think of us. We tend to be people pleasers and we want to be liked, especially by those in positions of authority. It can, therefore, be very uncomfortable for us to challenge or question a doctor who might be more concerned with solving the immediate problem of pain relief rather than the unseen (and often self-diagnosed) matter of ongoing sobriety.

We don’t have to treat these encounters as confrontation, but we do need to stand firm. “I am really enjoying sober life and I want to do everything I can to protect it” is a powerful yet positive stance. If you’re worried you won’t have the courage to speak up when required, practice saying that sentence in the mirror a few times a day. This will increase the likelihood that the words will come more easily in an unexpected situation (I’ve also practiced ordering soda and juice, or saying no thank you to offers of alcohol, which came in handy on many occasions!)

Finally, one more suggestion. Bringing a “wing man” to the doctor can be helpful, someone who might assume the role of “chief question asker” and who will reiterate your position if necessary. It’s important to keep a respectful tone and to value a doctor’s experience and expertise, but us “pleaser” types occasionally need some extra help to be heard.

My most sincere hope is that each of you enjoys such good health that you never find yourself in a position of pain management, but since life is unpredictable we must be prepared for anything. Take care, friends.





  1. Jean, I haven’t had to cross this bridge yet myself, but it’s a topic very close to my heart. My father was 20 years sober and he came into serious back troubles, and the short story is that he died very, very addicted to the morphine and while end-of-life care is a whole different story, I think that an open conversation with him, his doctor and care team, etc would have made such a difference because this subject is so scary and taboo for addicts and for professionals. People worry about thier sobriety, being in pain….professionals worry about even talking about addiction because either they don’t understand it or they are worried about the consequenses of prescribing or not prescribing the right meds. I hope you efforts help pave the way to more open dialogue for all of us on this subject.


  2. I would be thrilled if you would not mind if I share this with the Pain and Pallitice Care Team at a major Boston hospital.
    I was recently in a meeting where the pain specialists prefaced her recommendations with the disclosure that she was not in the addiction side of the business. I feel like your last two blog entries may be the beginning of a dialogue. As a health care professional myself, in wobbly recovery I feel like any advocacy or service I can offer makes me stronger. With great appreciation!


    • I’d be honoured! Let’s get both sides talking and seeking solutions. It would be great if the health community made a checklist or guideline to send home with patients – sober or not – to mitigate addiction risks for pain meds.


  3. I love all of these suggestions, and the graphic! Really simplifies it. No matter how long you have been sober, pain management with medication is ALWAYS a risk to sobriety — but it does not have to be an unmanageable risk. We are entitled to pain relief — and these suggestions help to make the risk to sobriety much less.


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