Sobriety, 12-Step-Programs and Chronic Pain

It is challenging enough to have Chronic Pain but if a part of your pain management involves pain medication and you have or have had problems with alcohol and/or drug use in the past, you may find yourself in some seriously deep water.

Many today, especially as people live longer, know some degree of Chronic Pain however few are in pain that is severe enough to require prescription pain medication. And of that number, only a very few have had problems with alcohol and/or drug use.

Many with past substance abuse issues have found help in 12-step programs based upon Alcoholics Anonymous, but…

members of these groups can have a very be a low tolerance for any kind of drug use, prescribed or not. They don’t know much about Chronic Pain and/or frequently not much either about the use of prescription pain medication (and why should they?)

For the individual in Chronic Pain finding understanding and getting support in the management of their pain medication can truly be extraordinarily difficult.

So what to do…


Two valuable resources for those who do have Chronic Pain, sobriety issues and a history of addiction are:

  1. A great A.A. talk by Father Jim H., a sober Priest at the Jesuit Los Altos, CA Retreat Center, entitled the “Living With Chronic Pain” is well worth checking out.

“In this talk, Father Jim H. deals with an issue that many recovering people confront on a daily basis: chronic physical pain. Like addiction, chronic pain affects the whole person. And like addiction, chronic pain is best treated by seeking healing for the whole person who suffers. Father Jim’s talk focuses on how chronic pain starts, what happens, and what it can be like after we begin talking about it with other people who have it, not just people who want to help us. He offers concrete suggestions about how to work even chronic pain into our program of recovery.”

2.  Alcoholics Anonymous does have a terrific pamphlet available to deal with just this topic entitled “The A.A. Member- Medications and other Drugs”.  

It goes into depth on the topic and really tries to put your mind at rest as well as giving you the tools you need to deal with this unique situation. If you are currently, as they say in 12-Step groups, “attending meetings” you may wish to encourage the person at your group who has “the literature commitment”, i.e. who gets the needed reading supplies, to purchase some. That way not only you yourself can get one but the members of your group, can become better educated on the topic and be better prepared to be of service to you and others like you (i.e. anyone with a serious illness that requires prescription medication).

“We recognize that alcoholics are not immune to other diseases…Because of the difficulties that many alcoholics have with drugs, some members have taken the position that no one in A.A. should take any medication. While this position has undoubtedly prevented relapses for some, it has meant disaster for others…

It becomes clear that just as it is wrong to enable or support any alcoholic to become re-addicted to any drug, it’s equally wrong to deprive any alcoholic of medication, which can alleviate or control other disabling physical and/or emotional problems.”

Chronic Pain and 12-Step Treatment and Retreat Facilities

12-Step Programs are utilized in many recovery facilities and unfortunately, for now any way, many so called Chronic Pain Recovery and Treatment centers address all pain medication use as problematic. More often than not they stipulate, as a large part of their program, that patients need to get off of most, if not all, pain medications. It may be the case for some but as we know, if you have significant Chronic Pain there is no living without the miracles of prescription medicine. Be sure to discuss the issue thoroughly with your Doctor and with the counselors at the facility, before thinking of going to such a center. A helpful article on the topic can be found here.


Author: ChronicPainDailyReflections

I manage a web-site, Chronic Pain Daily, created for and in support of those living in chronic pain. The site helps with the day-to-day spiritual, mental, emotional and physical needs of those with constant pain, whatever its source.