Managing Pain in Recovery
Article written by Anne Foy
If you’re a recovering addict, dealing with chronically painful conditions can be even harder than it is for most people. For a start, chronic pain is strongly linked to mental health problems like depression – which is in turn strongly linked with addiction relapse. People in pain need to take extra care of themselves, in order to avoid succumbing to relapse. However, this is further complicated by the fact that modern medicine’s best line of defense against chronic pain is, currently, opioid-based painkillers. Needless to say, people with a history of addiction (particularly opioid addiction) would be best off avoiding these.
So what’s a recovering addict in pain to do? It seems a question of either living with perpetual pain – which risks relapse through pure misery – or taking opioid analgesics, which risks relapse through exposure to an addictive substance. Depending on your doctor and insurer, the opioid option may not be available even if you want it, given the inherent risks in allowing narcotics to someone in recovery. So is there any way out of the dilemma?
Don’t despair. There are a few options available which may help.
HOW TO MANAGE PAIN DURING RECOVERY:
There are non-addictive pain relief options out there. Unfortunately, none of them are as comprehensive or as effective as opioids. Some people believe that medicinal marijuana could be beneficial in circumstances like these, but other addiction counselors warn caution with this. Currently, researchers are looking into the potential of non-addictive pain-relieving drugs, and it’s likely that we will see a less dangerous alternative in the near future. However, at present, it’s best to opt for one of the less-effective non-addictive options we have available at the moment. While these can’t kill severe pain completely, they can ‘take the edge off’. If combined with some other methods (read on…), their impact on quality of life could be significant.
A lot of pain is caused by inflammation of the body. Working to reduce inflammation can, therefore, go a long way towards reducing pain. There are a number of ways to do this, including anti-inflammatory drugs. However, one excellent way of keeping inflammation down is through your diet. A diet rich in vegetables and low in saturated fats is thought to reduce the body’s inflammatory response, resulting in a reduction in pain. It will also provide a payload of nutrients and fiber to keep you healthy – which will in itself enable the body to deal more effectively with pain on its own terms. Many swear by anti-inflammatory diets, and some claim that the change in their quality of life since adopting anti-inflammatory diets has been nothing short of miraculous. You can find out more about anti-inflammatory diets here.
YOGA AND MEDITATION
It may sound hokey, but a lot of rational medical doctors swear by the pain-relieving properties of yoga and/or meditation.
For a start, yoga can help to correct the posture and align the skeleton, as well as strengthening important structural muscles. This alone can help to alleviate a lot of Musco-skeletal pain.
However, it goes deeper than this. Yoga and meditation are great for stress. Stress is associated in many ways with pain – researchers think that cortisol can enhance the experience of pain, and even provoke new pain in certain cases. The more relaxed you are, the less pain you’ll feel.
Practising meditation can also give you a degree of control over your pain. We now know that a lot of pain is located in the brain. It’s experienced emotionally, rather than physically. It’s a confusing situation, which neurologists don’t entirely understand – but a lot of physical pain is, quite literally, ‘all in your head’. This doesn’t mean that your experience of pain is your own fault – far from it! But it does mean that focusing techniques like meditation can help you to lessen your experience of pain. Studies have found that people with chronically painful conditions who meditate regularly experience a greater quality of life and report lower levels of pain than those who do not. However it is that this occurs (and scientists still don’t really know how it works), it’s definitely something which has helped a lot of people, without the need for opioid medications. Plus, it could really improve your mental health into the bargain – win-win!