Coping With Chronic Pain After Drug Rehab
Chronic pain is that pain or discomfort which continues after a normally anticipated period of pain response. Chronic pain can run the gamut from mildly uncomfortable to nearly paralyzing and everywhere in between. According to a report from the Institute of Medicine in 2011, close to 116 million U.S. adults are currently living with some form of chronic pain.
Doctors do not always agree on how best to treat patients who complain of chronic pain. Some physicians are committed to the most conservative approach possible which means that they recommend changes in diet, exercise, alternative therapies and even nutritional supplements before they prescribe narcotics to their patients.
Other doctors, particularly those who specialize in pain management, are convinced that opioid narcotics (e.g. OxyContin, Percocet etc) offer patients significant pain control without the risk of addiction. But what about the patient who has a history of addiction and who has successfully completed drug rehab? Are opioid painkillers safe for them?
The Institute of Medicine data shows that three percent of patients who take opioids to manage chronic pain will become addicted to the medication. A further 12 percent of these patients wind up demonstrating drug-related actions which the report terms aberrant. There are no statistics for patients given opioids after drug rehab, but certainly the risks are too great to make prescription narcotics the first line of defense.
If the pain is being treated with opioids long-term, the patient runs the risk of developing drug tolerance, meaning that they will need increasing doses o the medication to control static levels of pain. This is a key factor in developing a drug addiction. The struggle for physicians comes in knowing which patients should be prescribed opioids so that their quality of life is not impaired by chronic pain and which patients should quickly be weaned from the drugs.
The best way to get patients off of opioid painkillers is to treat the source of the pain whenever possible. For many patients, including the patient with a history of drug rehab, a thorough attempt should be made to exhaust the many alternative pain control treatments.
Thankfully, there are many alternatives to prescription narcotics for handling chronic pain. A few of these are:
- Exercise – It may be a surprise to many to learn that the Arthritis Foundation and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommend exercise as a regular part of ongoing pain management
- Massage therapy
- Sleep – Research has shown that REM sleep deprivation actually increases a person’s sensitivity to pain
- Herbal medications and vitamin supplements – There are studies which demonstrate that pain responds well to treatment with chondroitin and glucosamine, fish oil and vitamin B
- Ice first and Heat later is the recommended response to any injury
- TENS is a therapy which uses electrical bursts to break pain messaging
- Physical therapy
Finally, it is possible to educate patients that they can enjoy a high quality of life without completely eliminating pain. Narcotics mask pain, they do not treat it. If the source of the pain cannot be treated, then every other option for managing pain is worth investigating before resorting to opioids and the risk of addiction. This is particularly true for patients with a dependency history.