Building a foundation for sustained recovery involves healing the mind, body, and spirit.
For many people with a history of substance abuse, this includes finding ways to manage chronic pain.
About Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is pain that lasts for 12 weeks or longer. It’s estimated that about 20 percent of the adult population in the United States deals with chronic pain to some extent.
Examples of conditions that can cause chronic pain include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Traumatic injury
- Uncontrolled migraine headache
- Nerve damage
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel disease
Sometimes, however, chronic pain has no known cause. When someone suffers chronic pain for six months or longer and there is no identifiable cause, this is known as idiopathic pain or pain of unknown origin.
The Relationship Between Chronic Pain and Addiction
When pain is not adequately controlled, individuals will be tempted to seek out addictive substances to self-medicate the condition. Alcohol is most commonly used to provide a temporary escape from the pain, but is not an effective long-term solution. An report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism explains the dangers of relying on alcohol to manage pain.
Individuals who are prescribed opioids to deal with chronic pain can develop an accidental addiction when their tolerance increases and they develop a physical dependence on the drug. This leads to taking doses that far exceed medical guidelines—doctor shopping or buying black market pills to feed the addiction.
Chronic pain is also associated with depression and anxiety. These mental health disorders impair an individual’s judgement and problem solving skills, which creates a vulnerability to substance abuse.
Managing Chronic Pain without Opioids
Chronic pain can make it difficult to complete the activities of daily living, which can have a severe negative impact on your quality of life. Pain management is essential for wellness, but prescription pain relievers are not recommended for people in recovery from substance use disorders due to the potential for addiction. Even if you have never abused prescription medication in the past, a history of abusing alcohol or other addictive substances would put you at a very high risk of abusing painkillers.
There are a number of different approaches that can be used to treat chronic pain, which means it may take some time to find the method that works best for your specific symptoms and the underlying cause of your pain. Some of the non-pharmaceutical options that may be recommended to help you address your chronic pain include:
- Attending physical therapy to address musculoskeletal causes of pain
- Implementing a yoga practice to calm the mind, reduce stress, and release endorphins
- Using massage or chiropractic care to promote a greater range of motion and improve circulation
- Reducing stress and anxiety with biofeedback, meditation, and guided imagery
- Reducing inflammation by adopting a Mediterranean diet rich in whole grains, fish, fresh fruits, leafy vegetables, and olive oil
- Promoting higher quality sleep by creating a comfortable sleep environment, setting a strict sleep schedule, and avoiding screen time or overly stimulating activities in the evening
- Changing your environment to make it easier to perform tasks that are known to cause pain
- Attending a support group for people who struggle with chronic pain
- Investigating alternative practices such as acupuncture, acupressure, reiki, and qigong as a way to find relief when other options have failed
Tapping into the Mind-Body Connection
Chronic pain, even when it has a readily identifiable cause, has a district psychological component. Perception of pain varies from individual to individual, but there are a number of steps you can take to increase your body’s ability to cope with chronic pain.
The same cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that forms the basis of your addiction treatment can help with chronic pain management by addressing the psychological factors that affect how the body perceives pain. For example:
- Catastrophizing—believing that that your pain is the worst thing that can happen and you are helpless to control it
- Lacking confidence in your own residence and ability to overcome obstacles
- Choosing to ignore information about the medical cause of your condition
- Believing your future depends on the actions of others instead of factors you can control
CBT is based on the view that changing maladaptive thought processes and behaviors can promote wellness. It’s an empowerment-based approach that gives patients the ability to take control of their future—allowing them to break free from the burdens of addiction while managing chronic pain without addictive substances.
How Mountain Laurel Recovery Center Can Help
At Mountain Laurel Recovery Center, we are committed to helping men and women with substance use disorders build the foundation for lasting sobriety. We provide evidence-based care that addresses addressing the underlying causes of addiction, including chronic pain. No matter what obstacles you’ve faced in the past, we believe there is always hope for recovery.