When we enter recovery, life still happens. We, of course, prefer to be able to live each day, one day at a time without having to encounter alcohol or drugs, but there are times where we might be faced with a surgery, an injury, or a medical procedure where narcotic pain medication might be offered. If these situations come up, it is best to be prepared by having an action plan in place.

In my 4 years of sobriety I have faced an ankle reconstruction, a broken ankle and I’ve had my tonsils removed. Through these experiences I have learned some tips that work for me.

Be Clear with Your Doctor from the Beginning

You don’t need to tell your doctor your entire story of drinking and using but it is important to let your doctor know that you are in recovery from an alcohol or drug addiction as soon as possible. Most doctors have had experience with addiction and that way you are both on the same page. You’ll feel better being transparent and the doctor is less likely to give you unnecessary pain medication.

Ask in Advance for Alternatives

When I had my ankle reconstruction I told my doctor I was in recovery and he said they could do something called a nerve block which would keep my leg numb for days following the surgery. That way I could get through some of the worst pain without having to feel it. There are many alternatives like this that you may not know about unless you ask. There are also alternatives to narcotic pain medication, they have stronger Ibuprofen as well as pain medication that doesn’t involve a head change that may awaken the cravings.

Be Transparent with Those Close to You

Don’t keep your surgery or injury a secret. Tell your family, friends, and sponsor so they know to keep in touch with you and check on how you’re doing. Consult with your sponsor if you are offered pain medication so you two can decide if it’s truly necessary and if it is, how it will be handled. Secrets are a big cause of relapse, so don’t let yourself isolate during this time.

Ask for Support

Don’t be afraid to ask people to come over and keep you company. Isolation is not good for someone going through a rough time. Physical pain can very often turn to emotional and mental pain if it’s not dealt with properly. Remember, in recovery you never have to go through anything alone again if you reach your hand out.

Stay Accountable to Others and to Yourself

If you do end up needing to use pain medication, make sure you stay accountable to someone. This can include giving the pills to someone else to hang on to, or reaching out to someone when you take one. After my tonsil surgery, I would call my sponsor when I was in a lot of pain to talk it out with her first and we both decided whether or not I needed to take something. It is easy to rationalize within our own heads that we need to take a pill so make sure you’re talking to someone you’re close.


Remember just because we get sober doesn’t mean nothing bad will ever happen to us. What recovery gifts us with is tools to handle situations that baffle us and a support system to allow us to never walk through anything alone. Don’t forget to use the toolkit and the fellowship of recovery no matter what you’re walking through!