How Can I Cope with Pain If I Have a History of Painkiller Abuse?

How Can I Cope with Pain If I Have a History of Painkiller Abuse?

People in recovery from painkiller addiction have pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical options for relieving pain

Pain, both acute and chronic, is a problem for a large number of individuals. A publication by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) titled “Managing Chronic Pain in Adults With or in Recovery From Substance Use Disorders” notes that 36 percent of people reported experiencing disabling pain in the last year. Over half of people age 20 or older reported pain that lasted more than three months.

Physicians often turn to prescription opioid painkillers to address the issue. Unfortunately opioids have high abuse and addiction potential. It is important for people, especially those in recovery from painkiller addiction, to understand alternate pain relief options.

Non-opioid Pain Relief

Options for non-opioid pain relief include the following:

  • Correcting the underlying problem – Pain is a warning system that the body uses to alert people to the fact that a problem needs to be addressed. It is not always easy to determine the problem and to correct it, but it is wise to keep the goal in mind. Prescription opioid painkillers do nothing to correct underlying issues. They bind to opioid receptors in the brain and other organs and reduce the perception of pain but not the cause of it.
  • Reducing stress – Pain and stress can have a cyclical relationship. Pain increases stress, and stress can likewise increase pain. A 2008 article in the journal Pain reports on a study of children who completed a stress task and a pain task. The children were divided into two groups and completed the tasks in opposite order. The children who completed the stress task first demonstrated lower levels of pain tolerance than did the other study participants.

Stress can be managed in a variety of ways. It can be helpful to focus on breathing, and to make a conscious effort to breathe slowly and deeply. It can also be helpful to utilize muscle relaxation, focusing on one muscle group at a time and tensing then relaxing muscles progressively. Other stress-busting techniques involve gratitude, humor, music and mindfulness.

  • Acupuncture – Acupuncture has been proven effective for a wide variety of acute and chronic pain conditions. Although its mechanism of action is not completely understood, a 2001 study reported in the journal NeuroImage found that acupuncture activates areas of the brain that are also involved in pain states. The authors suggest that acupuncture relieves pain by unbalancing the equilibrium of pain networks. A 2005 article in the Annals of Internal Medicine reports that acupuncture is effective in relieving chronic low back pain, a 2007 article in the journal Rheumatology notes that it has been shown to relieve knee pain, and a 2004 article in BMJ states that acupuncture produces persisting benefits for patients with chronic headache especially migraines.
  • Non-opioid medications – There are a number of non-opioid medications that can be useful for pain relief. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are some of the most common. Pain messages are sent to the brain through electrical signals, and chemicals called prostaglandins can amplify them. NSAIDS block the effects of enzymes that help make prostaglandins.

Antidepressants can be helpful for some types of pain. The SAMHSA publication reports that tricyclic antidepressants may be useful in the treatment of fibromyalgia, migraines and many neuropathic pains. Anticonvulsants may also be effective in treating the conditions.

Topical analgesics are another choice for pain relief. Common ingredients include counterirritants, salicylates and capsaicin. Certain NSAIDS, such as diclofenac, also come in topical form.

  • Bodywork – Pain can often be reduced by strengthening certain muscles, relaxing others and realigning the body so that stress is removed from painful areas. Bodywork techniques can include therapeutic massage, physical therapy, chiropractic care and targeted exercise. Exercise in a body of water, so that gravitational stress is reduced, can be especially helpful.
  • Temperature therapies – The application of ice to an injury is known as cryotherapy and the application of heat as thermotherapy. Both can be helpful for muscle pain. Ice packs are appropriate for newly strained, pulled or torn muscles and heat is especially useful for pain caused by trigger points. The general rule of thumb is that ice is best for injuries less than a day old, and heat is appropriate for longer-lasting pain. Ice packs should not be used for more than 20 minutes at a time. Whole-body heating in a sauna may provide benefits in addition to immediate pain relief such as detox and the killing of pathogens since it can act as an artificial fever.
  • Essential Oils – Many types of pure essential oils have been demonstrated effective in treating a variety of painful conditions. Essential oils are often applied topically and the fumes may also be inhaled. A 2008 article in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine reports on the effectiveness of massage with ginger and orange oil for treating knee pain. A 2003 article in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology reports on the analgesic effect of eucalyptus oil, and a 2002 report in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine reports on the pain-relieving properties of lavender essential oil therapy.

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