How Can You Avoid Opioid Addiction and Manage Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is a widespread issue, affecting roughly one in five of all Americans. Prescription opioids are often used to combat this issue, but they come with their own risks. In particular, many patients may end up combatting both an opioid addiction and chronic pain at the same time. So how can one manage chronic pain while avoiding this situation?
The relationship between opioid addiction and chronic pain is not always guaranteed, but the stats don’t look good. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that all 80% of heroin users have at some point been on prescription opioids used as painkillers. An estimated 21-29% of people who have taken prescription opioids abuse them and, out of that number, roughly one-in-ten will develop an opioid addiction.
However, it is not impossible to manage chronic pain without the use of opioids and other addictive drugs. Here, we’re going to look at what you need to know about chronic pain, its relation to opioids, and what you can do to manage it without them.
Understanding Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is a widespread and highly varied issue. While the most common cause is back pain, it’s far from the only cause. It can be hard to diagnose, as well, so while attempting to find the cause, many doctors will focus on treating the pain first and foremost. For one, there is a broad range of potential causes. These include the following:
- Acute injuries, such as sprained wrists, ankles, sciatica and muscle pain
- Acute illnesses, such as an infection that causes significant pain
- Chronic illnesses like arthritis and fibromyalgia
- Musculoskeletal deformities, like a maladjusted spine
- Nervous system issues that may interrupt how pain signals operate between the body and the brain.
Idiopathic chronic pain, cases without a clear cause, is also an issue, accounting for a range of headaches, joint pains, back pains, sinus pains, and nerve pains. It can take time to discover the potential cause of chronic pain if it can be found at all. So, while attempting to find the root cause of the issue, treating the only prevalent symptom: the pain itself is often the first route of attack for doctors.
Symptoms and Other Health Issues Related to Chronic Pain
Chronic pain can be experienced differently from person to person, as it is caused by such a diverse range of issues. Ways it can differ from person to person include:
- Frequency: with some experiencing it intermittently and others experiencing it constantly.
- Severity: it may be a dull ache for some, while for others it may be a sharp pain that is truly debilitating.
- Sensation: some feel pains like electric shocks, others experience burning sensations, shooting pains, throbbing aches, painful tightness or stiffness, or something else entirely.
The physical sensation of the pain itself is not the only issue you may have to contest with. You may also experience some of the following symptoms that are attributed to chronic pain:
- Sleep problems, like insomnia, sleeping at odd hours and interrupted sleep
- Fatigue and drowsiness are both common side effects of those sleep problems as well.
- Changes in mood, even chronic mental illness like depression and anxiety
- Changes to your appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- A weakened immune system leading to more frequent issues with the flu, colds, and other bugs
Finding effective management for your chronic pain can reduce in an overall improvement in the quality of life, helping to combat many of the symptoms mentioned above. As such, the responsible use of pain medication can help, but it’s not always easy to guarantee that an individual isn’t at risk of becoming addicted.
The Path to Opioid Addiction from Chronic Pain
How do people suffering from chronic pain end up at a greater risk of developing an opioid addiction? Starting with an opioid prescription may be the key determining factor. Not all medications used to treat chronic pain fall into this dangerous category. Some medications frequently used that aren’t opioids include the following:
- Over the counter medications, including NSAIDs, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Depending on the need, the dosage may be altered or increased.
- Antidepressants are used for their perceived ability to increase natural neurotransmitters in the body. These may include clomipramine, doxepin, and amitriptyline.
- Anticonvulsants are not fully understood in relation to chronic pain relief but have been demonstrated to help. A common theory is that these medications, most often used to treat issues like epilepsy, stop pain signals from reaching the brain. While not as potentially dangerous as opioids, there is an addiction risk with some anticonvulsants, too.
Despite the alternatives, opioid prescriptions of oxycodone and hydrocodone-based medication are most common due to much greater effectiveness in treating pain. Codeine, morphine, Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet are most frequently used.
However, as we use these medications over time, our body tends to change its response to them. On one hand, we can grow used to the substances, meaning they are less effective at treating pain and, as such, some tend to increase their own dosage or look for stronger opioids. On the other end, our body develops a dependence on them, which means we can start to crave them more and more, even as they lose effectiveness.
A prescription isn’t essential for an opioid addiction to develop in response to chronic pain, either. Self-medication often leads to addiction. An individual may acquire opioids strictly for pain management or may use them and other addictive substances to treat mental health problems, sleep disorders, or changes in appetite associated with chronic pain.
Chronic Pain Management Without Drugs
It is possible to manage your chronic pain without the reliance on opioids. Here, we’re going to look at a range of management tactics that are worth looking into:
- The aforementioned non-opioid medication like NSAIDs, antidepressants, and acetaminophen can help replace opioids.
- Muscle relaxants include diazepam, can help with musculoskeletal pain.
- Naltrexone, when used in small doses, can help with issues like complex regional pain syndrome and Fibromyalgia.
- Topical pain relief balms and gels like capsaicin and lidocaine can be applied directly to more acute sources of pain to offer some relief.
- CBD, the non-psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, is touted by some as highly effective pain relief, though it is not widely available everywhere and clinical tests are still in their infancy.
- Meditation is used not to treat chronic pain directly, but to manage the mental issues like stress and anxiety that may form as a result of it. This can result in an overall improvement in your quality of life.
- Certain kinds of therapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy, can help you become more aware of negative thoughts and redirect them towards more effective coping mechanisms.
- Distraction is a common pain management tool. Lately, studies have shown that meditation and the use of sensory deprivation “float” tanks have great potential to minimize the experience of chronic pain.
- Treatments like electrotherapy are believed by some to alter how our brain and body deal with pain signals, which may in return reduce chronic pain.
- Diet and exercise can decrease weight, fight inflammation, and increase the production of hormones that relieve pain and improve mood.
Without opioids, it’s still possible to manage your pain. It’s important to develop a well-rounded strategy that offers both the relief of the pain itself, as well as the chance of managing and mitigating side effects like sleep deprivation and mental illness. This can lead to an overall improvement in your quality of life that might even surpass the effectiveness of opioids alone.
Treating Opioid Addiction for Those with Chronic Pain
A common fear of those dealing with both an opioid and chronic pain is that it’s difficult to treat both at the same time. This is undoubtedly true. Weaning off opioids can cause some to experience withdrawal symptoms at the same time that they go through their chronic pain more extensively. However, we employ a wide range of strategies to help treat both at the same time, including the following:
- Withdrawal management to ensure that the detox process is as safe as possible, sometimes with the aid of medication
- Medication-assisted treatment, such as the use of methadone that can decrease opioid dependence while providing some pain relief.
- Medication management to ensure that dosage and usage is kept healthy and consistent.
- Therapeutic assistance to help with overall quality of life, stress, and addiction management techniques.
Which techniques used will depend on a range of factors, including the severity of the addiction and other health factors.
Getting the Help You Need
If you’re dealing with both an opioid addiction and chronic pain at the same time, then you need an approach that understands and tackles both issues at once. That’s what we offer at Opus Treatment through both inpatient and outpatient programs.
We know that many of our opioid-dependent clients began using medication to treat chronic pain, which may very well be a part of their life even now. As such, we work with you to understand your individual needs. We can help you fight both opioid dependency while teaching you the tools you need to manage your pain without having to rely on addictive and potentially dangerous medication. Get in touch for a consultation today and let’s find the best path to your recovery.
If you or a loved one needs help, call us at 949-625-4019.