Methods of pain relief have never been easier, more varied, or more effective than they are today. In the past, many people would have been totally unable to function under severe chronic pain, that is now capable of being managed.
Unfortunately, some strong painkillers carry with them serious dangers of abuse and addiction, especially opioid medications such as morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl. These drugs can be enormously effective when taken over a short period of time, in limited doses, and closely monitored by a healthcare provider.
However, many people become addicted and start taking them at inappropriate times and doses that can pose serious health risks. For people in recovery from addiction, the risks may be greater than the benefit.
Here are some things to consider as you think through ways to manage severe chronic pain, while continuing to work on your recovery.
Find a doctor willing to take your concerns about addiction seriously
Most doctors are honest, hard-working and deeply knowledgeable, simply trying to utilize their awareness of resources to find what works for you. However, some doctors may not be fully aware of the risks of addiction, and may approach the task of simply relieving your pain with more seriousness than your concerns about addiction.
As a result, some doctors may overprescribe a strong, addictive drug, in situations where a milder one could work just as well. Medical schools should be doing more to warn doctors about the dangers and frequency of opioid addiction, but you should also do whatever you can to communicate openly.
Express your concerns, and your history of addiction, so the two of you can work out a plan to manage your pain in a safe way.
Follow the instructions of your doctor very carefully, and talk about its effects
If you do decide to go on opioid painkillers, it is absolutely imperative that you follow the instructions of your doctor very closely, to avoid dangerous overdoses. Take only what you are told to take, and speak very carefully about the drugs' effectiveness.
If you are noticing any unpleasant side effects, such as constipation, drowsiness, nausea, or anxiety, your doctor might recommend decreasing the dosage, or trying an alternative medication. If you are still feeling a lot of pain, the doctor may cautiously increase the dosage slightly.
Going off these drugs immediately can result in unpleasant withdrawal effects, such as muscle pain, diarrhea, and irritability, so you will probably be coached to taper off usage of the drug, by gradually decreasing the dosage. Once you feel you have a trustworthy doctor open to hearing and responding to your concerns, be sure to only use the drug according to his or her instructions.
Other alternatives to painkillers
Alternatively, there are other ways of managing pain with medications that do not pose the same risks of overuse or addiction. Research in this area needs to continue, but there have been some promising results from using antiepileptic drugs, antidepressants, and anti-arrhythmic drugs.
There are also softer alternatives to opioids that also relieve pain, but with less severe withdrawal effects. Some people have also had positive results in managing their pain through massage and acupuncture.
Approaching chronic pain as a holistic condition
However you decide to manage your pain, simply taking drugs of any kind should not be the only way you can find relief. Like any physical condition, including addiction itself, chronic pain can be treated in such a way that takes lifestyle changes, and psychological counseling as part of the way pain is managed, so that people with chronic pain are able to not let it get in the way of living a full life.
Physical therapy and gentle exercise can be an especially effective way to work through and lessen the severity of pain. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, as well as meditation and other ways of managing thoughts and emotions can also be really helpful in getting over the ways pain can be mentally unbearable.
There are many ways to continue to live a happy, healthy life of sobriety, even when you must endure physical pain. Responsible, thoughtful, multi-disciplinary ways of handling it will help you make it through.