Right now in the US, one is six people are taking medication to manage their depression, anxiety and/or other mental illness. According to a study in the Washington Post, one in eight Americans are alcoholics or drug addicts. With the estimated 15 million people living in the US who consider themselves alcoholics or addicts, it’s highly likely a number of these people are seeking out support from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). It’s also probable that a large percentage of those participating in AA are also on doctor prescribed psychotherapeutic medications.
Addiction and mental illness often go hand in hand. The National Institute of Health reports that of the data collected, a person who suffers from major depression or alcoholism is more than twice as likely to develop the other affliction. Moreover, the person who struggles with both depression and alcoholism has a smaller chance of success in treatment without the aid of a psychotherapeutic medication.
Can You Be on Medication and Still “Sober?”
People are frequently referred to 12-step support groups after inpatient treatment. While it is common to be diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder and take medication while remaining in a support community, there are some occurrences when 12-step fellowship members deem taking medication to mean someone is not fully sober. However, the AA literature clearly states that no one in the program should give medical advice. It also reiterates that some alcoholics require medication and outside support, specifically anyone struggling with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression. Sometimes there is still, unfortunately, a stigma associated with the use of medications within some AA group subsets.
The risk occurs when someone (usually a newcomer) decides to go off medication believing it’s a requirement to stay in AA and be considered sober and, as a result, relapses. The majority of AA members acknowledge that some fellows need the outside support of a doctor. Still, it’s alarming that there are vulnerable individuals who might not get the medical help they need due to the misinformed opinion of others in the program.
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for opioid withdrawal can also be a sensitive subject in 12-step rooms. Many assume that if someone is under a regimen of Suboxone, for example, then he or she is not “sober,” even if it’s under a doctor’s supervision or in the context of an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). Many times opioid based drugs can have such a physiological impact on the person’s nerve receptors, he or she might have to be on withdrawal medications indefinitely. Opioid addiction was obviously not such a prominent issue in our country during the time in which AA was founded or the Big Book was written. While someone struggling with opioids might still find support and tools in AA or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), it’s important to recognize that they should still take the advice of their physician or addiction specialist over anyone else.
The Potential to Abuse Meds in Sobriety
Part of what might make a 12-step member be skeptical of any type of drug use, even doctor prescribed, is that many medications can be abused. For instance, medications for severe anxiety disorders, panic disorders, or anti-seizure, like Xanax, Klonopin and Valium, fall into the benzodiazepine family. While these medications are not intended for long term use, but rather just on an as-needed basis, they can easily be taken too often, and become a problem. Other medications that have the potential to be overused include some anti-depressants, antipsychotics or ADHD medications such as Wellbutrin, Seroquel, Adderall or Ritalin.
For someone that is not an addict, taking these medications as prescribed would not pose a danger. But if they are being abused, they can lead to death. For a person who acknowledges that they are an addict, the key to avoiding a dangerous situation with medication is being totally honest with their doctor. Doctors know what medications are safe for people in recovery, and if taken correctly, should never pose a problem.
12-Step in Conjunction with Dual Diagnosis Support
It’s important to find a treatment facility that recognizes the benefits of 12-step but also has the resources to safely treat any potential co-occurring disorders with medication—and without judgment.
Oceanside Malibu’s staff includes a medical director and addiction specialists. During the initial assessment, clients have a full medical and psychological evaluation. The treatment team knows that when a co-occurring disorder is not addressed, and only the prevalent symptoms of either the mental illness or addiction are attended to, eventually the other side of the disorder will begin to peek through. As a result, Oceanside Malibu is dedicated to creating a safe environment for their clients where everything can be properly treated.
While they live in a beautiful home on the beach, program participants start to experience healing through comprehensive treatment that integrates holistic, individualized care. Here one can anticipate daily group therapy; life changing, affirmative experiences; and the guidance of a caring community that also values the importance of a happy life in recovery. Take the first step surrounded by people who root for your success, and arm you with the proper tools for long term health and a lifetime of sobriety.
Reach Oceanside Malibu by phone at (866) 738-6550. Find Oceanside Malibu on Facebook