Recovering Opiate Addict In Pain?

I was presented with an interesting dilemma this past week.  I woke up with a bad case of shingles.  It was all over my face, forehead, eyes and scalp. I thought I was too young to get shingles, but apparently people of all ages can get it.

After leaving the doctors office, I figured it would just be a rash….no big deal.
Boy, was I wrong.  This has been one of the most physically painful experiences of my life. Which brings up a huge question that any opiate addict might have.

How does a recovering opiate addict deal with severe pain issues?

Well, this isn’t my first go at it since completing my rehab years ago.  Actually, just 5 weeks after detoxing and not even discharged from rehab, I had to have another shoulder surgery to remove nerve tumors.  So, imagine going through hardcore withdrawal (again), but in a rehab center, completing all the classes and therapy only to be told by my neurosurgeon that I must have these nerve tumors removed.  This meant back on pain medications.  A patient cannot properly heal if they are in severe pain. This is one reason why opiate pain medications are prescribed for weeks/months post operation. They are not just prescribed to ‘ease the bad feeling of pain’.  Can you imagine what was going on in my mind?  I did not want to have to go through another surgery. And, I certainly did NOT want to have to go back on opiates, try to wean off and risk the horrible withdrawals again (because it’s nearly impossible for any opiate addict to properly wean/taper off of the opiate chemical.  I said ‘nearly’ impossible, not impossible…because I was actually able to wean off correctly with very little withdrawal after that last nerve surgery. But, that is a whole other Post topic to write about later).

Anyhow, I had no choice. I had to get these tumors cut out, so that my physical on going pain would be reduced.  After all, at this time….i didn’t have strong opiates like fentanyl anymore to ease my pain because I was ‘exposed’ in rehab and no one would prescribe.  Needless to say, I wanted to be off opiates by this time.  I was beating my addiction once and for all…when I entered rehab.  To have to face another surgery and get back on pain meds was daunting to say the least.  I had many questions and concerns like how the doctors would treat a recovering opiate addict. And, I wondered if my high tolerance to opiates would cause me more pain because the normal dosages that they give non opiate addicts after surgery might not be enough for my body (and, they were not. It was a mess…I was in so much pain I had to go to ER post.op because I thought I was dying or going crazy because of the pain.  I was opened from the back of my shoulder to the front in one incision, plus two other large cuts beside my neck and down my collar bone.  I digress.

To come back to the beginning of this story, I was faced with a terribly painful medical condition this week that left me in bed. The pain was like someone hit my head with a baseball bat.  My skin was on fire from the shingles virus and any clothing touching or light breeze would cause sheer physical pain. The worse part was a non-stop headache 24 hours a day for 10-11 days straight. 
Again, the question is….would it be considered a relapse if I have to go on opiate pain medications to cope with this shingles pain? This is a very tough dilemma to be in. I bring this to your attention because many other recovering opiate addicts will be faced with a similar situation sometime in their life.


This reminds me about this 5th nerve tumor surgery that I was forced to have while I was going through opiate addiction rehab as described above.  Because the pain was so severe I had to go to the Emergency Room.  I was hoping they could do something more for my pain because this was a Saturday and my surgeon was unreachable until Monday morning.  This was a huge mistake going to this particular ER hospital.  I had been there before and they had notes in their medical files on me that I was an ‘addict’.  They put me through hell and denied helping me even though they could see a fresh 6 inch incision, plus two other large cuts swollen and bruised on my shoulder and neck.  I was in excruciating physical pain.  The worse part was how the nurses and doctor treated me at the ER.  They called me an addict and claimed I was only there to seek out more drugs.  One nurse told me I had already “relapsed” and acted like I was a horrible person.  She knew that I was already taking percocet prescribed to me for post-operative pain relief.  I was very offended by her stating that I had already relapsed.  After all that I had been through to go to rehab with an open-mind to conquer my addiction. Fighting with every bit of my heart and soul during the withdrawal phase.  I didn’t ask for this latest surgery and I surely was NOT at the ER seeking out more drugs to feed my habit.  I needed real help.  I thought I was going crazy because the pain never stopped.  We left this ER and I white-knuckled it the rest of the weekend until Monday morning.  At which time, my surgeon prescribed stronger oxycodone extended strength which drastically gave me pain relief.  I would later successfully wean of of all opiate pain medications and live a ‘clean’ life up to now and into the future.


A recovering opiate addict having to deal with major physical pain issues is probably a rare situation.  I thought I would share my story in case someone else finds themselves in a similar ordeal.

Right off the bat, I’m going to say that I do not recommend that any person go without proper pain medications if they are in dire need. I don’t care if you are a ruthless opiate addict,…you should take pain medication if you absolutely need it. After all, you will not heal properly, or you may delay your healing if you are in severe pain.

With that said, I also caution people for obvious reasons.  No matter how you look at it, for a recovering opiate addict to go back on opiate pain meds…(because of a legitimate medical condition that is causing severe physical pain)…does prevent a challenge.

If you are wondering, I chose NOT to accept the pain medications  recently prescribed by my doctor for shingles for two reasons: pain-quote 

1) I didn’t think the pain would be as bad as it was     2) I didn’t want to take opiates because of my past history.

Instead, consider all other pain relief alternatives.  Refer to our Post related to ‘Opiate Pain Medication – Alternative Options’

Looking back, maybe I just should have just taken the pain meds.  The pain was a 10 on a 1-10 pain scale that lasted 13 days straight.  I thought each day would get much better.  However, the progress was very slow going.  I didn’t see much of an improvement in my shingles condition or pain from day to day.  Because of so much pain, I might have even delayed my healing of the shingles…per what my Doctor said.

But, on the other hand, I am also glad that I did not take any opiate pain medications to treat the shingles.  I don’t have to worry about getting hooked on them again.  And, I have no worry of going through withdrawal.


If you or your loved one is a recovering opiate addict, and you are faced with a medical condition that causes severe pain (disease, injury, surgery, etc.)….Do NOT be so against taking opiate pain medications at the beginning.  Do not refuse yourself legit pain meds for a legit purpose.  No one deserves to be in agonizing physical pain…not even opiate addicts.
Do your research, learn all that you can about your medical condition.  Figure out how bad the pain might get, how long it could last.  Ask your doctor about other patients. Inform yourself online if need be. Then make a wise decision.

It’s perfectly fine if you choose to accept pain medication from your doctor.  Make your doctor aware of your situation.  But, be cautious because some doctors will refuse to prescribe you anything if they think you are still a ‘user’ or addict.
Be smart about it. Manage the pain meds with the help of a loved one (spouse, parent or responsible sibling).  Have them distribute the pills as prescribed and lock them up in a safe place if need be.  Or, another option is to work with your prescribing doctor.  Ask them to only prescribe you small quantities of pills at a time. 5 at a time per script, or whatever so that you are not tempted to take half the bottle like you may have done in the past while abusing these drugs.

You have come this far, and worked hard to defeat your addiction. So, be strong and be smart.  Always remain in control.
Put safe practices into place like asking for a loved one to manage the pills for you and only distribute as needed.  Have them locked or hidden otherwise.

But, in the end…do not deny yourself opiate pain medications for a real situation where severe physical pain is involved for an extended period of time.  You may not heal properly if you neglect the needed opiates. You do not need to punish yourself and make yourself be in agonizing pain…just because of your past addiction. This is a chance for you to redeem yourself at some level. You can prove that you are in control and responsible and that ultimately you have DEFEATED your opiate addiction by keeping it under control while coping with physical pain and consuming the proper amount of pain medications.

It takes about 3 weeks to get fully over shingles virus.  However, the problem with shingles is that it has a history of leaving lingering pain for long after the skin lesions are gone. This is because shingles is a nerve virus and the virus ‘leaves it’s mark’ within your nerves.  Because this is a nerve-related condition, is why this ‘rash looking’ skin problem is very painful.  

Do you have a chronic pain issue that needs addressed?  Are you willing to share your experience with pain as it relates to addiction?  Please help others by sharing your experience.


addicts in pain

Brought To You By:    Matt Bronowicz, 11/10/2016 – Founder of HEROin Me

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