The Challenge of Treating Chronic Pain in Sobriety


Treating chronic pain in sobriety can be a slippery slope in which you’re threatened by a double-edged sword. Living with constant pain hurts your quality of life, but giving in to taking narcotics may set you up for a relapse.

There are a lot of causes for chronic pain. As you age, you may have to deal with issues such as chronic back problems or joint pain in your hips and knees. You may have been in a car accident or have a sports injury. Some people suffer from migraines or pain due to a variety of medical problems. Many doctors will refuse to prescribe narcotics if they are aware that you have a history of addiction. If your pain is intense, you may find yourself going to a different doctor or maybe even being dishonest about being a recovering addict.

Some people in recovery are able to handle prescribed narcotics responsibly, taking them exactly as prescribed. If you fall into this category, you may want to have a loved one hold on to your pills and give them to you at appropriate times. Others may be surprised to discover that taking narcotics triggers a relapse. They start off taking narcotic pain relievers as prescribed, but pretty soon they’re taking the doses closer and closer together. They may even crush their pills and snort or smoke them. Or they may find that their cravings for their drug of choice are suddenly overpowering.

Options for Pain Relief Without Narcotics

The decision to use prescribed narcotics is a personal one. Although narcotics can set off cravings and lead to a relapse, it’s important to acknowledge that the pain you are living with may be a threat to your sobriety as well. Untreated pain may trigger the urge to use street drugs or even alcohol for relief. Living with unrelenting physical pain may lead to depression and a loss of interest in other things you previously enjoyed doing, including going to meetings. There are several non-narcotic options for relieving pain. For some people, over-the-counter medications combined with other forms of pain relief might make the intensity of the pain manageable.

Alternative forms of medicine, such as acupuncture, may work in some cases. Acupuncture is an ancient form of Chinese medicine that works to restore the flow of energy by inserting thin needles at specific points on the body. It has been found to be effective for relief from joint pain, stiffness, osteoarthritis, low back pain and chronic headaches.

Chiropractic care can help the spine get into proper alignment. This can relieve physical pain and promote the body’s own healing processes. For many people, chiropractic care offers relief from neck pain, back pain and headaches.

Relaxation techniques such as meditation help relax muscles. These techniques may help you learn to focus on something other than your pain. Listening to music can also be soothing and therapeutic. Some people obtain pain relief from working with a hypnotherapist.

People with back, neck and shoulder pain may find it helpful to receive massage therapy. A massage can promote relaxation and reduce the perception of pain. Some massage therapists are specially trained in pain relief.

Topical creams that contain capsaicin can decrease the pain you are feeling in a particular area of your body. Pain relief can also be obtained from skin patches.

Your doctor may also be able to prescribe medications that are non-narcotic. Muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory medicines are examples of these medications.

Depending on the type of pain you’re experiencing, using a heating pad or an ice pack may be helpful. In some cases, alternating heat and ice gives more relief than using either alone.

These are some suggestions on how to manage physical pain without taking narcotics. Try experimenting with several of them to see if they help. For people in recovery, taking narcotics for pain relief should be a last resort.

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