Chronic Pain: How to Find Relief Without Pain Medication
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Chronic Pain
Managing Pain without drugs

Managing chronic pain is exhausting, especially for those who suffer from substance abuse. Unfortunately, the most effective and common forms of pain management are addictive narcotics.

The fact is, recovering individuals must pursue alternative options for pain management.

It is important to realize that there is no cure for chronic pain, just as there is no cure for addiction. Fortunately, there are methods for managing both that dramatically boost the quality of life for the people affected. The type of chronic pain an individual is experiencing will determine the best course of action.

For many people, chronic pain is a roadblock to recovery. They’re used to having drugs and alcohol to dull both the physical and emotional pain, so they equate a sober life with one of constant physical agony. Narcotics only mask the pain and cause more damage in the long run, so alternative pain relief options need to be a fundamental part of sobriety for these individuals.

Perhaps the most important step in treating chronic pain and addiction is a relationship with a good doctor. It is imperative that a physician knows the specifics of a patient’s addiction history so they can take the best course of action.

Ryan Potter MSW, MCAP, ICADC – Director of Clinical Development

Types of Chronic Pain

  • Musculoskeletal Pain
This is pain that affects bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. It is often caused by trauma or inflammation.
  • Nerve Pain
Also known as neuropathic pain, nerve pain occurs when nerves are sending improper pain signals throughout the body.

Pain Management

Non-Opioid Analgesics

The following medications are popular alternatives to narcotics for easing chronic pain.

  • Acetaminophen – Often used as the first line of defense against pain, this pain reliever is readily available and comes in high strength doses.
  • NSAID’s – Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Naproxen, Meloxicam) are available over the counter. They are the most common method of reducing inflammatory pain without narcotics. Prescription strength NSAID’s are also available.
  • Anti-Depressants – Certain anti-depressants can help with chronic pain, even if depression is not a problem. Dual-diagnosis individuals with severe pain may find these medicines kill two birds with one stone. Tricyclic Anti-Depressants and SSRI’s are believed to increase neurotransmitters in the spinal column.
  • Anticonvulsants – Anticonvulsant medication has been shown to be effective in treating some forms of nerve pain, specifically fibromyalgia and shingles. Addicts should be careful with certain nerve drugs, however. Medicines such as Gabapentin, or Lyrica, are not narcotics or controlled substances but do have some potential for addiction.
Complementary Medicine

In addition to pharmaceuticals that treat chronic pain, many individuals find that holistic options provide a safer form of relief.

  • Physical Therapy – Those who struggle with chronic pain often avoid movements that hurt, resulting in stiff muscles and more pain overall. Physical therapy can break this cycle and allow patients more mobility and less pain in the long run.
  • Massage – Deep tissue massage often provides temporary relief of muscular and joint pain.
  • Acupuncture – There is considerable research supporting acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine can help comfort chronic pain sufferers.
  • Chiropractic Care– Individuals that experience debilitating pain often move in unnatural ways, which can cause the spinal column to become misaligned. A chiropractor can help by adjusting the spinal column back to its normal position.
Cognative Behavioral Therapy

Since the sensation of pain is centered in the brain, many psychologists use this style of talk therapy to help people deal with serious pain. In conjunction with other treatment methods, CBT can be used to overcome the obstacles of chronic pain and increase the quality of life for many sufferers.

Anxiety and depression are both common side-effects of long-term pain. With the help of CBT, individuals learn how to live in the present and combat the negative thoughts brought on by their discomfort. Dwelling on a situation creates emotional pain, which can often lead to relapse.

Meditation for pain management is risk-free and can be done anywhere, making it a viable option for those experiencing any level of pain.

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Steve H.
Treatment Center
I started taking pills recreationally, but my use got out of control after I had surgery on my back. No one understood the amount of physical and emotional pain I felt. When my parents found out, they flushed my bottle down the toilet and sent me off to rehab. It was rough at first, but looking back I know it saved my life.
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Ambrosia Treatment Center
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Leslie J.
Treatment Center
After a car wreck, my osteoarthritis started to get worse. When the pain got bad enough, I started taking Percocet my husband had from a previous injury. After abusing opiates for ten years, it finally hit me that something needed to change. Today I feel present when I am around my grandchildren, and that is the greatest gift sobriety has given me.
5 5
Ambrosia Treatment Center
4.5 7500
Ambrosia Treatment Center
Jeff R.
Treatment Center
Life gets better every day. 10 years ago, I fell from a tree and smashed my kneecap. My doctor gave me pain killers, which worked like a charm. After the pain went away, I saved them in case of emergency. After a few years, I was taking them for any form of minor discomfort, and developed a full-blown addiction. I knew if I didn’t stop I was going to die, and in some ways, I wanted to. Enough was enough, and I check myself into an inpatient treatment. I have almost two years clean, and I am so glad I did it. Sacrificing a month of work gave me back the rest of my life.
5 5
Ambrosia Treatment Center
4.5 7500
Ambrosia Treatment Center
Mike W.
Treatment Center
I was injured during my last football game in high school. After seeing the doctor, I was told I had a bone spur on my spine and started taking pain medication, but nothing seemed to work. My tolerance quickly went up, and within a few years I was hooked on opiates. Once I started getting them on the street, my life spiraled downward quickly. Recovery has saved my life. Now I am going to school to become a substance abuse counselor. It does get easier!
5 5

Although they are the easiest alternative pain treatment method, OTC medications are not a cure-all. They should be combined with other complementary forms of medicine (such as physical therapy and CBT) to achieve the most effective pain relief strategy. Talk to your doctor about dosage and which medication to choose at your local drug store.

Opioid painkillers work by interfering with the transmission of pain signals to the brain. While this does lower the perceived pain level, it does not target the source of pain. Alternative methods are a more sustainable and healthy approach to managing pain, especially for someone who is prone to drug addiction.

Alternative pain management will never completely cure chronic pain. However, studies show that the combined use of these methods can ease suffering and discomfort without the use of narcotic medications. In the long run, these treatments are much safer options.

Often those who abuse drugs started taking them for chronic pain in the first place. Because a doctor prescribed them, the patient did not understand the risks involved or took those risks regardless. Taking narcotics often creates a vicious cycle of pain, treating the pain with more drugs, getting addicted to those substances, and then further experiencing pain because of withdrawal symptoms. Once a tolerance is built to these medications, they eventually they stop working altogether at the recommended dose. Many sufferers then turn to taking more of the drugs or acquiring more potent illegal versions.


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