Pain can come in many forms, for many reasons. For some, when they hear the word pain, they think of emotional pain. The loss of a parent, child or even a close friend can bring with it the emotional pain of the grieving process. For others, a more clinical picture comes to mind. Perhaps they think of a cancer patient undergoing harsh treatments and suffering the ill effects of this or some other terrible physical blight. Both types of pain are real. Both types of pain can cause individuals to behave and act in ways that are not true to character. Physical pain management, for instance, can sometimes lead to tolerance and eventually addiction to certain pain medications or illicit drugs, while emotional or psychological pain can sometimes result in addiction to anti-anxiety medications.
Approaches to Pain Management for Physical Pain
If an individual has a Dual Diagnosis of addiction and a medical condition that causes real, physical pain, he or she may not be in a position to receive prescriptions for the pain. Many of the most commonly prescribed pain medications are highly addictive. Prescribing these types of medications on a regular basis for chronic pain, for instance, could easily derail a recovering addict’s attempts to live free from addiction. Therefore, there must be some other type of activity or philosophy behind pain management.
One such approach for pain management is the use of non-narcotic medications. National Public Radio reported recently that some doctors are calling for their peers to stop prescribing opioid medications, like Lortab, Oxycontin, and Vicodin because, in their opinion, they cause far too much harm and don’t work nearly as well as the medical community would like them to. If this is the case, then finding other medications that will work just as well could be a viable alternative for those who suffer physical pain.
In addition to asking your medical provider for non-narcotic options for pain management, whether the pain is temporary or chronic, there are alternative and complementary forms of therapy that have been used for centuries by peoples around the world for the management of everyday pain due to injury or chronic illness.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is a government agency managed by the National Institutes of Health. This agency funds research and examines results in a field of study that has existed for quite some time in order to establish the usefulness of these types of treatments.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, there are certain types of chronic pain that can be, or have historically been, addressed through alternative treatment methods.
- Low back pain
- Chronic headaches
- Neck pain
- Temporomandibular joint disorder
- Nerve pain
- Cancer pain
The types of non-medicinal approaches to pain management can vary from psychological treatments, such as hypnosis to physical alternatives like acupuncture. The studies conducted by NCCAM have shown that some types of pain respond better to one treatment, while another type of pain may respond to a different therapy. For instance, one study has shown that acupuncture is a good treatment for osteoarthritis of the knee.
On the other hand, the experts recommend that individuals suffering from irritable bowel syndrome may benefit from a host of complementary therapies, ranging from hypnotherapy to essential oils to yoga.
Exercise for Pain Management
According to information published by the US National Library of Medicine, fibromyalgia is a condition that causes chronic pain in the entire body, including the joints and muscles. A study conducted in 2011 found that exercise is a viable approach to pain management for some individuals. It also found that those suffering from the widespread pain of this condition can improve their overall quality of life when they participate in exercise programs.
Exercise does not have to mean endless hours at the gym doing repetitive or boring tasks. The report suggested that each person should approach exercise in a manner that works for them. There are many types of exercise from which to choose which have been shown to help with pain management.
Tai chi, according to PubMed, helps with chronic pain by addressing mind-body interaction, meditation, and exercise. This ancient Chinese martial art was originally developed centuries ago in China as a fighting system. Over the years, the practice has become a slow, rhythmic combination of movements that are very low impact and rather graceful. The art of tai chi combines these movements with breathing techniques and mind-body concentration that can help to reduce stress as well as pain.
Another form of exercise that can be used as an approach to pain management is yoga. In fact, according to the American Yoga Association, the whole concept of yoga was developed for the purpose of making the body strong and flexible so individuals could physically sit still for long periods of time during meditation. Yoga involves breathing techniques and physical movement and can be tailored to the exact needs of each individual.
Meditation is a form of pain management that is present in both yoga and tai chi. Both of these types of exercise help an individual who may suffer from pain to concentrate on something other than the pain, which can then cause the pain to lessen, or in some cases, vanish entirely. Keep in mind, however, that it is important to discuss any exercise program with your medical provider before you begin exercising. Different levels of impact and cardio-based exercises are available depending upon the individual’s needs and expectations.
Approaches to Pain Management for Emotional Pain
When we talk about emotional pain, we often think of heartbreak or overwhelming sadness. This type of pain is very real, of course, but what many do not realize is that when our minds and our hearts are in pain, our bodies often follow. According to the Mayo Clinic, for instance, major depression and physical pain are often linked forward and backward.
If someone is feeling depressed, or suffering from a major depressive condition, they may experience physical pain as a result. On the other hand, if someone experiences chronic pain that prevents them from taking part in activities with friends or family on a regular basis, they may develop depression.
One way to treat this type of psychological pain is through the use of antidepressant medications. Most commonly, antidepressant medications work on the neurotransmitter serotonin. This brain chemical can affect mood, and modern antidepressants inhibit the brain from absorbing the chemical back into the neurons. These drugs are known as “SSRIs” or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. By prolonging or “inhibiting” this action, the serotonin remains active in the synapse longer and can elevate the person’s mood. Other types of antidepressants work on different brain chemicals, including dopamine and norepinephrine.
Sometimes, the emotional pain an individual experiences is anxiety. An article published by Psychology Today indicates that the same drugs used for depression are also valuable tools for the treatment of anxiety and should be exhausted prior to moving on to the next class of drugs.
For some individuals, the use of another type of drug may be warranted. These drugs, called benzodiazepines, do not come without a certain amount of risk, particularly for anyone who may be predisposed to addiction. Benzodiazepines, when taken over a period of time, can result in tolerance. Tolerance is the condition which develops when an individual’s body and brain become “used to” the drugs. The effects of the drugs then become less strong than when the person first began taking them. The patient will then need to take higher doses to get the same results. Tolerance can lead to addiction, although the presence of tolerance does not mean the person is addicted. This is why anyone who uses benzodiazepines for legitimate medical conditions should always do so under the close care of a medical professional.
What Happens When Pain Management Develops Into Addiction?
Whether an individual has developed addiction to opioid pain medication for physical symptoms or to the benzodiazepines often prescribed for emotional or psychological issues, or both, it is important to seek help from a treatment center that can address all of the individual’s needs. If a chronic physical condition other than addiction is present, treating the addiction without finding alternative treatments for the original condition will be counterproductive. According to the experts at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, taking the time to properly diagnose and treat every condition for each individual is a principle of effective treatment.
These types of conditions may include issues that are:
Finding a treatment center that has the experience, time, dedication, and trained staff to address all of these needs is critical. There are many individuals who suffer from addiction along with another type of condition that might require various approaches to pain management. Dual Diagnosis treatment is critical in these situations. Thankfully, there are facilities to meet your needs, and we offer just that type of treatment in California and Tennessee; call us to learn more.
David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.
Reviewed by: Kim Chin and Marian Newton