Every day 116 people die of an opioid drug overdose. And 42,249 people died of prescription opioids in 2016.
These numbers are chilling.
What is even more chilling is that many of these deaths are preventable.
The problem is that prescription opioids are seen as one of the only ways of coping with chronic pain. And people are rarely offered non-opioid alternatives.
Many individuals in recovery for opioid abuse fear that treating pain with opioids will lead to relapse.
However, it does not have to be this way. Many opioid alternatives can provide lasting pain relief with none of the risks.
Since opioids are so commonly used, you may ask yourself: “Aren’t they the best method to treat pain?”
The answer is no.
A 2017 study showed that there was no difference between opioid and non-opioid treatment for pain management.
Opioid alternatives — like ibuprofen and acetaminophen — performed as well as opioids when treating leg and arm pain. And beyond addiction, opioids have many other side effects, including constipation, nausea, vomiting, and adrenal problems.
There are many ways of treating pain without addiction or side effects.
Let’s look at a few opioid alternatives to help you manage pain safely.
Many addicts fear that pain relief and drug relapse go hand in hand.
But there are many non-opiate painkillers for addicts.
From drugs that treat inflammation and injuries to drugs that treat chronic pain, there are opioid alternatives.
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
Most people know drugs like Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen by their brand names, Tylenol and Advil.
These medications are usually associated with treating mild headaches or migraines.
However, most people don’t know they can be serious non-opiate painkillers.
These drugs are considered NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
They work by acting directly on the injured body tissue to reduce prostaglandins, which causes increased inflammation after an injury.
NSAIDs function differently than opioids, which act on the central nervous system. The opioids bind to the opioid receptors in the brain, decreasing the brain’s awareness of pain. This leads to a euphoric feeling that can become addictive.
Though these drugs are non-addictive and are typically safer than opioids, they still have side effects like liver damage, stomach irritation, kidney problems, and bleeding problems.
Another serious side issue is the ceiling effect. This means that once you have increased the dosage to a certain point there is a limit or “ceiling” to how effective these drugs are.
As a result, these drugs are not recommended for chronic pain sufferers.
Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)
Chronically ill patients are especially at risk for opioid addiction.
This is because the long-term use of opioids increases the risk of becoming dependent. It may also be because many non-opioid drugs are not approved for long-term use.
However, for people suffering from chronic diseases, like fibromyalgia and chronic back or knee pain, there are opiate alternatives.
For example, Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) work by decreasing sensitivity to pain by interfering with the spinal cord’s pain suppression pathways.
The practice of using these drugs has already become popular.
One SNRI, Duloxetine, is already widely prescribed as a treatment for chronic pain.
Though Duloxetine works well for chronic pain, it has side effects like loss of appetite, constipation, and fatigue.
With many individuals that struggle with opioid addiction looking for opioid alternatives, drugs like Duloxetine provide a second chance at life.
Tricyclic antidepressants are drugs that treat chronic pain and depression.
These drugs work effectively because chronic pain and depression have similar neurological makeup and often affect similar parts of the brain.
They work by controlling the output of serotonin and norepinephrine. They also regulate the function of the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus.
One benefit of using antidepressants to treat pain is that it can also help treat the depression that accompanies opioid abuse.
Anticonvulsants are usually only thought of as anti-seizure medications.
However, they can also function as powerful opioid alternatives for those struggling with opioid abuse. They work by interfering with the pain signals sent from oversensitive or damaged nerve cells.
Though anticonvulsants are relatively safe, they do carry some risks. These drugs can affect levels of vitamins C, D, E, B6, and B22. They can also cause nausea, dizziness, weight gain, and fatigue.
Some of the newer drugs have fewer side effects. For example, drugs like Gabapentin and Pregabalin have successfully treated pain caused by spinal cord injuries.
Many people think athletes and bodybuilders typically use steroids or that extra boost in performance and muscle.
However, many people are unaware that steroids have been and continue to be used for pain management.
Because of their anti-inflammatory properties, they can be used to treat joint damage, nerve damage, and soft tissue damage.
What makes corticosteroids different than opioids is that they work on a cellular level. They bind to a cell, change gene expression, and control cellular function. This allows for the management of pain without the damaging effects of opioids.
Physical Opioid Alternatives
For people afraid of the side effects of pills, there many opioid alternative treatments that provide pain relief.
A great pain management option to talk to your doctor about is physical therapy.
Physical therapy allows for treating an injury or illness with exercise and massage, instead of surgery or drugs.
It also allows for more long-term pain management and recovery.
Physical therapy can often require more work on the part of the patient.
It requires attending sessions. In many cases, you will also have to perform exercises at home.
For people living without reliable transportation or in areas where physical therapists are rare, it can be challenging to access this type of treatment. Some physical therapists will travel to you, so it is important to consider all of your available options.
Physical therapy can improve healing and can provide long-term pain relief.
One of the safest ways of treating pain without side effects is acupuncture.
Though acupuncture is often regarded as pseudoscience, there is evidence showing it can help treat pain.
One study found that acupuncture worked and medicine in providing long-term pain relief for patients who came into the emergency room.
Scientists have found that acupuncture can change the way the brain processes and perceives pain.
Chiropractic care is another alternative to opioids that has minimal side effects.
Chiropractic care is a part of the medical profession that focuses on the spine and its function.
Most practitioners manipulate the spine to align the body and improve function. This makes it the perfect treatment for lower back pain, headaches, and neck pain.
Although many see chiropractic care with the same skepticism as acupuncture, there is plenty of evidence to show that it is safe and effective. For example, 95% of chiropractic users report that chiropractic care has helped them manage neck and back pain.
A Consumer Report study showed that chiropractic care outperformed all other back pain treatments, including prescription and over-the-counter medication.
For people who want quick relief without addiction or side effects, chiropractic care may be the perfect option.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation TENS
One of the most interesting methods of pain relief is a TENS machine or a TENS unit. This machine essentially zaps the pain away.
A TENS machine, or a Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, treats pain by passing an electrical current through the superficial tissue.
It is believed that the subtle vibrations may drown out the signals of pain that the nervous system is sending.
It may also work by stimulating healing in damaged tissue.
Another benefit of this treatment is that it’s relatively cheap. Each TENS machine is only $100 per unit. Therefore, you can get pain relief without opiates and without breaking the bank.
One of the main drawbacks of a TENS machine is that there is not much evidence to support its effectiveness. However, some experts are hopeful it can work for certain kinds of pain.
We Can Help With Opioid Addiction
For many individuals struggling with addiction, having a plan for dealing with pain can be one of the essential parts of preventing relapse.
Many opioid alternatives offer relief for almost every situation – from back pain to chronic pain.
We understand that drug addiction is a process.
If you or a loved one struggles to make your way through, contact our team of experts today.
Remember that help is always available.