Fiona injured her back months ago. She went to the doctor, got a prescription for Vicodin, of which she had little to knowledge about. She decided to first take some ibuprofen, which did the trick for a while, and casually took a prescription Vicodin once in a while when the pain became severe. Months later after her injury had healed, she realized that she had almost a full bottle of Vicodin sitting in her medicine counter. She decided to keep it there for safekeeping, in case her injury flared up again. She rarely thought about it and went about her days as usual.
What hasn’t been told is that Fiona is a recovering alcoholic. Fiona used to go home every night and drink 2-3 bottles of wine alone for many years. She was an elderly lady who began drinking heavily after the death of her beloved husband. After coming to grips with the fact that she was an alcoholic, she attended AA meetings, got sober, and changed her life. She knew little to nothing about other types of drugs or addictions, as her main problem stemmed from abusing alcohol.
On the other hand, there is another recovering alcoholic named Sam who stopped drinking three years ago after going through a rehab program and attending a court ordered 12-step program. Sam was feeling pretty good about his life and enjoyed working with other addicts who needed his help. One day, Sam injured his arm during work and suffered from excruciating pain. He went to the doctor and was prescribed Vicodin. Like Fiona, Sam didn’t know much about Vicodin, except from what he had heard of it in passing at 12-step meetings. He popped a few pills when the pain was unbearable, and immediately experienced a euphoric feeling similar to that of alcohol.
Somewhat alarmed, Sam was a little bit disturbed by the effect Vicodin had on him. He enjoyed the way the drug made him feel, not to mention the fact that it fully minimized his pain. He began taking more and more of the pill, then began begging his doctor for more prescriptions when he ran out too early. Though Sam was concerned about his behavior, he was still sober from alcohol, and had no desire to drink. A doctor gave the Vicodin prescription to him, so he felt somewhat justified in taking it. Without realizing it, Sam became a pill addict, even though he considered himself only an alcoholic.
Both Fiona and Sam were recovering alcoholics who knew little to nothing about other types of drug addictions. Both had struggled solely with alcohol, and considered alcohol their main drug of choice. When given a prescription to Vicodin, Fiona and Sam acted differently. While Fiona took the pill as needed and felt no need to abuse the drug, Sam became inexplicably addicted to something he had never even abused or heard of before. So what happened? Why did both addicts react differently to these drugs?
The fact of the matter is that there is no rhyme or reason for the way in which an addict will react to a drug that is not his or her drug of choice. The phenomenon is called “transferring addictions.” Elements Behavioral Health explains that, “Too many people who are trying to recover from addiction either fail or transfer their compulsive behaviors to something else.” While addicts need to be very weary about this phenomenon, there are some circumstances where an addict will be able to take an addictive medication as prescribed and not develop the same type of problem with it.
Oftentimes, ex heroin addicts drink on occasion and find themselves behaving like any normal drinker would, even though they are highly addicted to opiates. This, however, is the exception, not the rule. In other words, don’t let personal anecdotes persuade you that it’s ok to take another addictive medicine or drug. Be honest with yourself, talk to a doctor or sponsor, and try to avoid anything addictive or destructive drugs at all costs, unless the benefits outweigh the downsides.
1. Balance is key. Any time you feel like a drug or negative behavior is taking over your balance in life, it is probably something to avoid. Even overeating or compulsively working out can be negative addictions. They are avoidance behaviors used to escape feelings. We all need to escape sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with reading a good novel or going with friends to a movie when you’re feeling down. But if any type of activity or drug is preventing you from living a sober, honest life, then it’s time to reassess the situation.
2. Always avoid addictive medications if possible. If you don’t absolutely need to take an addictive medication, or drink a glass of wine (which you usually don’t), then don’t do it. Your brain as an addict is wired for addictive, destructive behavior. It can trick you very easily into transferring an addiction, just as Sam was tricked into becoming a pill addict. Talk to your doctor about alternative pain relievers or anti-anxiety drugs that won’t put you in a bad position to start using again.
3. Abstinence is usually the best policy Of course, there are certain circumstances where taking an addictive medication is the only option. This decision is left up to you and your doctor. However, it is best for you to avoid any drug or behavior that may lead you down a bad path. The rule of thumb is that if you have a bad feeling about it in the back of your mind, it’s probably best to stay away from it.
Stay informed about the latest addictive drugs and understand how the chemistry in your brain works. You are an addict. While you are talented, diligent, hard working, funny, bright, and creative, you also lack the ability to put up a stop sign once that first drink or drug is taken. Keep informed about the latest addictive drugs, whether they are natural, legal, or prescription only. As long as you remain aware of the nature of your disease, and speak with doctors, sponsors, and those in the recovery community about other types of drugs you are considering to take, then you can decide to make the best decision for yourself and your health moving forward.
Are you are someone you know suffering from addiction transference? Don’t suffer in silence alone. Contact Linda Rose from Footprints Behavioral Health at (949) 558-4723 today. Don’t wait; get started on your road map towards recovery now.