Six Ways to Manage Pain in Addiction Recovery
For many people who struggle with substance use, especially opioids, pain is a major barrier to recovery. Perhaps you’re afraid that without drugs or alcohol, you won’t have a way to manage pain, or perhaps you’ve already gotten sober and the pain is a major challenge to staying sober. Pain is still frustratingly elusive and although it’s the subject of intensive research, there is still a lot we don’t know about what causes pain, especially chronic pain. However, we do know something about managing pain, and that knowledge grows by the year. The following are some ways you can reduce and manage pain in addiction recovery without drugs or alcohol.
1. Talk to Your Doctor
When it comes to pain management, talking to your doctor is always the place to start. Make sure you are honest about your addiction history. This might feel uncomfortable, especially if you have been in the habit of bamboozling doctors for opioid prescriptions. People with a history of substance use also know that doctors sometimes take them less seriously once they know about their addiction history. However, in this case, you are specifically saying that you need help managing pain without addictive drugs.
What your doctor suggests will largely depend on your circumstances, specifically whether you’re dealing with acute pain, such as from an injury or medical procedure, or chronic pain, especially if it has no apparent cause. Over-the-counter medications such as NSAIDs are often more effective for acute pain than many people realize--especially in combination--even for pain resulting from surgery. Chronic pain can be trickier. However, one important thing to understand is that opioids are actually not very good for treating chronic pain since long-term use increases your pain sensitivity and may even spontaneously cause new pain.
2. Try Physical Therapy
For some kinds of pain, physical therapy can be a powerful treatment. There are primarily two ways physical therapy helps. First, movement is good for pain. When you have pain, your natural reflex is to limit your movement to prevent pain. This is good in the short term, as it allows an injury to heal, but in the long term, your mobility becomes limited and your pain increases. Physical therapy is a way to improve mobility under the care of an expert.
Second, chronic pain is often caused by weak or unbalanced muscles. This is especially common in knee pain and lower back pain. Strengthening and balancing the muscles around the affected area reduces stress on the area, which reduces pain. It often takes someone with a detailed understanding of anatomy to help you strengthen the right muscles.
Finally, there are newer methods that rely on electrical stimulation in specific areas that can help reduce pain. This has been shown to be especially effective for neuropathic pain, or pain that’s caused by nerve damage.
3. See a Therapist
It sounds a bit counterintuitive, but there are several reasons you should see a therapist if you’re struggling with pain. First, and perhaps most importantly for people recovering from addiction, pain is often a symptom of depression--one people typically don’t think of. It may manifest as headaches, muscle aches, chest pain, or joint pain. In fact, pain is one of the primary reasons people seek medical attention leading to a diagnosis of depression. This is especially common among men. Effectively treating depression should also reduce pain.
However, even if you don’t have major depression, your therapist can help you cope with pain. There are cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, techniques that can help you cope with pain. Another form of cognitive therapy is acceptance and commitment therapy that is also helpful for pain. Typically, these help you change your thinking so that the pain isn’t worse than it needs to be and it allows you to better function despite the pain.
Exercise also seems like a counterintuitive way to cope with pain, however, it can be tremendously helpful. First, it’s important to consult with a doctor to make sure exercise won’t aggravate an injury. It may also be good to consult a physical therapist for the reasons described above. However, exercise is good for reducing pain overall.
It trains your nervous system to be less sensitive to stimuli and to re-categorize the sensations associated with exercise as normal sensations rather than pain. It also helps in a peripheral way by improving your mood and reducing your sensitivity to stress, and perhaps reducing depressive symptoms, as discussed above.
5. Pay Attention to Your Diet
Diet is too often overlooked when it comes to managing pain. An anti-inflammatory diet is particularly important. Inflammation is the redness and swelling that occurs at the site of an injury or infection and the pain associated with inflammation helps immobilize the injured area. Therefore, it only makes sense that if you want to reduce pain, you also want to reduce inflammation.
That means reducing or eliminating inflammatory foods such as sugar, alcohol, processed flour, processed meats, and vegetable oils, and most fried foods. It also means eating a healthy diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods instead. Research shows that a Mediterranean-style diet is especially good for reducing inflammation. This diet is rich in whole grains, nuts, beans, legumes, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and fatty fish, such as salmon.
6. Maintain a Healthy Weight
It’s also important to note that excess body fat is highly inflammatory. Fat cells promote the release of inflammatory molecules and the extra weight often contributes to joint pain and lower back pain, while reducing mobility. We’ve already looked at how exercise and a healthy diet can help reduce pain and those benefits are compounded insofar as they also help you maintain a healthy weight.
Pain is a real concern and chronic pain is one of the few things that reduce your happiness long term. It’s no wonder that some people fear the thought of living without drugs and alcohol if they believe it will leave them vulnerable to pain. However, unless you have a terminal illness, opioids are not a good long-term solution to pain and they will probably make it worse. Instead, work with your doctor and therapist to develop a comprehensive plan to manage and perhaps even eliminate pain.
At The Foundry, we know that both mental and physical pain are the primary drivers of addictive behavior and we help our clients deal with pain in a holistic way, using cutting edge therapeutic methods like CBT, EMDR, and Alpha-Stim as well as healthy lifestyle changes including exercise, mindfulness meditation, yoga, and healthier eating. To learn more about our program, call us today at (844) 955-1066.