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Managing Pain after Opioid Use Disorder

Updated: Dec 20, 2019

Millions of people in America suffer from some form of chronic pain, many of whom treat their ailments with opioid painkillers. Those who are in recovery from opioid use disorder or have been managing persistent pain for years with the use of opioids and are no longer experiencing relief can face a significant challenge as the most common forms of help are no longer an option for them. There is also difficulty for individuals in recovery from opioid addiction when facing a short-term issue such as pain from a medical or dental procedure. This situation is becoming more common as those who live with both substance use disorder as well as chronic pain are often left with the feeling that they have few options, but there is the potential to discover other options for relief.

Psychotropic Therapy

Some people with chronic pain have found relief with antidepressants like SSRIs, SNRIs, and tricyclics. This method of pain therapy works best for those who deal with pain from arthritis, fibromyalgia, and persistent lower-back pain. Researchers have been working on learning more about the direct relationship between depression and chronic pain, finding that there may be a connection with the neurotransmitters in the spinal cord that fortify serotonin and norepinephrine, sometimes reducing the sensation of pain. These psychotropic medications can also lessen the mental anguish that people go through who constantly feel burdened by their chronic discomfort, providing mood elevation as well as analgesic pain relief. Anticonvulsants, such as gabapentin, are also an unconventional approach to non-addictive pain relief for those who have specific nerve pain often caused by injury or direct damage to the nervous system.

Pain Medications

Depending on the level of pain, those in recovery dealing with chronic aches can be given non-opioid relief with drugs like NSAIDs, acetaminophen, and COX-2 inhibitors. While the level of pain alleviation may not be as powerful as opioid medications, they can help those who are taking other steps to improve their condition like physical therapy, lifestyle changes or other medicines to improve their health overall. For people who simply cannot achieve relief and are crippled by their chronic pain, there is a chance that a doctor may allow them to receive opioid pain medications despite previous issues with substance use. Sometimes physicians will use methadone or buprenorphine to provide pain relief without triggering relapse to using illicit opioids. When patients with a history of substance use disorder are given these opioid medications, they are closely monitored by medical staff and are encouraged to enroll in supplementary relapse prevention programs during their pain management treatment.

Holistic or Alternative Methods

For those who wish to explore pain relief therapies that don’t involve medication, there is a wide selection of homeopathic and experimental remedies that range in efficacy. Among those, acupuncture has been shown to help people with constant back, shoulder, and neck pain, as well as chronic headaches and osteoarthritis. Scientists are still trying to get to the bottom of what acupuncture precisely does to help alleviate pain symptoms; but, it’s still a recommended alternative therapy for patients to consider, sometimes even in combination with medication management. Other methods, such as massages, inversion, and similar relaxing and therapeutic options are often recommended to patients by their doctors.

Living with chronic pain can be mentally and physically draining, especially for people in recovery. There are methods to help alleviate symptoms safely without jeopardizing one’s hard work in overcoming substance use disorder. Speaking with a doctor who has experience and knowledge of opioid use disorder, as well as chronic pain, can help those who are suffering find relief. For more information or to begin treatment, contact us today.


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