Unless you have ever experienced a serious injury or degenerative disease, it is hard to imagine what it’s like to experience debilitating pain on a daily basis. For 50 million Americans, however, chronic pain is an everyday reality, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Doctors face a difficult dilemma when providing treatment for their chronic pain patients. Pain management usually involves the use of prescription medication, such as oxymorphone or oxycodone. These prescriptions can put patients at risk of developing dependency or addiction.
Dependency is a very common outcome in chronic pain patients. As the brain adapts to the daily presence of the opioid, the body becomes dependent on it. Therefore, when the patient attempts to cut back or stop taking the medication, they can experience severe withdrawal symptoms, as well as chronic pain.
Some patients, however, will develop an addiction, which differs from physical dependence. Continue reading to learn more about the risks of opioids for chronic pain management and non-narcotic solutions.
What is chronic pain?
Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks despite medication or treatment. Medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, spinal conditions, cancer, fibromyalgia or injuries are a few known causes of chronic pain. This is in contrast to acute pain, which is a short-lived pain-inducing event. The signs and symptoms of chronic pain may include:
- Constant muscle aches
- Loss of flexibility
- Burning pain
- Shooting or stabbing pain
- Joint pain or stiffness
- Sleep problems
- Depression or anxiety
- Loss of stamina
Does chronic pain management always lead to addiction?
Chronic pain does not always lead to an opioid addiction, although it could happen. Addiction is a severe substance use disorder that is associated with maladaptive, compulsive behaviors. Opioid addiction carries serious risks, such as ultimately seeking the medications from illicit sources or switching to heroin, both of which can increase exposure to fentanyl and result in a potential overdose.
The reasons why some chronic pain patients develop addiction where others do not is not fully understood. Individuals who become addicted rarely stick with the assigned daily dosage, and may want to experience the euphoric high associated with opioids. They may begin craving the drug, having become both physically and psychologically addicted to the medication.
Non-narcotic p}ain remedies for chronic pain
Physicians are now much more aware of the risks of opioids and are being proactive in reducing dosages as injuries heal. Whenever possible, patients are being treated for long-term pain issues with non-narcotic alternatives to opioids. These include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as naproxen
- Corticosteroids, such as prednisone or cortisone
- Anti-seizure medications, such as pregabalin or gabapentin
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Muscle relaxers
In addition to these non-narcotic medications, there are a broad range of treatments that can help reduce pain, such as:
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation
- Epidural steroid injections
- Nerve blocks
- Chiropractic care
- Therapeutic massage
- Guided meditation
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective type of psychotherapy that helps individuals who struggle with chronic pain. CBT helps reduce pain distress by giving the patient new ways to understand the root cause of the pain and coping tools to help them feel more in control. CBT helps change the way they perceive the pain and the thoughts around the pain, which can reduce symptoms.
Chronic pain patients that develop an opioid use disorder may benefit from a recovery program that is tailored for long-term pain management. These programs support the patient as they safely taper off the opioid and then shift to non-narcotic pain management options.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.