This is a concern that has come up in several meetings I’ve gone to recently: people feel “unsober” not just because they’re taking a prescription drug, but because the drug affects their state of mind, just like the drugs we took in our active addictions. Also because psychiatric drugs—like those other drugs—can’t just be stopped; they have to be taken every day or we risk going through a painful withdrawal and detox.
Taking psychiatric drugs can make us doubt how sober we really are. And sometimes people are told during meetings that if they’re taking ANY drug that manipulates their mood or mindset, they can’t work the steps until they quit the drug, and they have to change their sobriety date.
Three thoughts come to mind, just from my own experience:
1. A sobriety date is between an individual and his or her higher power.
As alcoholics and addicts, we’re prone to looking outside ourselves for approval. My first sponsor, a spiritual woman who taught me to rely on prayer before calling her with a problem, advised me to depend first on my inward guidance. “I’m not your higher power,” she repeatedly told me—and, I learned, neither is anyone else.
2. True mental illness deserves treatment.
If an addict is diagnosed with a mental illness such as clinical depression or bipolar disorder, neglecting to treat it properly risks jeopardizing sobriety as much as failing to treat the addiction itself. Addiction is not just a spiritual illness—it also has physical, emotional, and mental dimensions.
3. We must take responsibility for our own health.
We must participate in our health care by making sure practitioners are qualified, and by learning about the drugs’ possible effects, both short-term and long-term. Just as in the past, addicts have been denied medications because of their addictions, we must be careful not to let the pendulum swing too far in the opposite direction so that we come to depend solely on the drugs, without at the same time working toward spiritual and physical recovery. Feedback from a trusted “We” can help in these situations. I’ve learned that my higher power communicates through other people. It has been helpful for me, while making such difficult decisions, to have a support network in place—a “We,” as we sometimes call it in 12-step circles.
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Guinevere is the pseudonym of a 46-year-old woman who detoxed from a high level of prescription painkillers in 2008. A professional writer, she has published two books of nonfiction, as well as essays and journalism, and she has written about health issues for 15 years. She covers news, reviews, and stories about addiction and recovery at her top-rated addiction blog, Guinevere Gets Sober.