Man Holds Pills and AlcoholTens of millions of Americans suffer from chronic pain every single day. Caused by a variety of reasons, chronic pain can impact the quality of patients’ lives.

People suffering from chronic pain are continuously in the danger of getting addicted to pain medication. Indeed, prescription and over-the-counter medications are the most abused substances, after marijuana and alcohol. While there are multiple ways of controlling chronic pain, complete avoidance of medications can be difficult.

Some of the commonly abused drugs include opioids for pain, anti-depressants, and stimulants. And since they have become easily available, healthcare professionals are seeing an increasing number of patients suffering from addiction.

What is chronic pain?

Any pain that lasts longer than six months is defined as chronic pain. Such pain can be mild or debilitating, continuous or episodic, excruciating or just an annoyance.

In the case of chronic pain, the nervous system can receive signals for weeks, months, and even years. Such pain requires continuous care and treatment.

Chronic pain is manifested as headaches, joint pains, injury pains, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, sinusitis, and backache. Chronic pain can be limited to specific body parts such as the neck, back, or pelvis or it can be generalized muscle or nerve pain.

Besides the physical stress on the body caused by chronic pain, there is a large emotional component. Chronic pain can result in anxiety, depression, stress, anger, and fatigue. Such manifestations can further interfere with the body’s response of creating natural painkiller while elevating sensations of pain. Additionally, unrelenting pain can hamper the body’s immune system and make it less effective.

So any treatment of chronic pain has to take into account the psychological toll in addition to the physical aspect.

What are the treatment options for chronic pain?

There are as many treatment options for chronic pain patients as there are causes for the pain. Usually, it is difficult to find one simple treatment for chronic pain. Instead, healthcare professionals try to balance a number of treatment options for optimum relief.

The most common pathway for treating chronic pain is drug therapy. Whether prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications, the options are many. From the commonly used acetaminophen brands such as Tylenol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Aleve to topical pain relievers or sprays, the choices vary.

If OTCs are not effective, you might be prescribed stronger medications, such as muscle relaxants or anti-anxiety drugs. Doctors also have the option of giving stronger painkillers such as Percocet or Vicodin. Additionally, steroid injections can also be used for specific joint problems such as inflammation.

In some cases, patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) is used, wherein the patient can self-administer a premeasured dose of pain medication using a button on a computerized pump.

When drug therapy fails to control chronic pain, doctors can assign surgical implants such as infusion pain pumps and spinal cord stimulation implants. These instruments are used to reduce pain signals to the brain, either by administering pain-relieving medication or electrical signals to block the pain message.

Doctors also prescribe physical therapy and exercise as a counter to chronic pain. Stretching and strengthening your body can also help alleviate chronic pain.

Increasingly, patients are seeking less-invasive alternative methods to keep chronic pain in control. Reiki healing, chiropractic massage, therapeutic touch, and acupuncture are regularly used to treat chronic pain.

Patients are also exploring the option of natural supplements to treat chronic pain. For instance, fish oil is known to reduce pain and increase mobility.

The use of herbal remedies is also on the rise. However, most herbal products are not regulated, so you need to do your research before undertaking any herbal remedies. Additionally, you must tell your doctor if you do take such remedies since they might interfere with your other medications.

If all else fails, patients can seek help in pain clinics, which are exclusively meant to deal with excessive physical anguish. Pain clinics take on a multidisciplinary role, using doctors, psychologists, and physical therapists.

How can I avoid getting addicted to pain-reducing drugs?

Before starting on any regime of potentially addictive medications, you must talk to your doctor about your medical history. Discuss your risk factors such as alcohol dependence, family history of addiction, any mood or psychological disorders, etc.

Make sure you take your medication for the reason it has been prescribed. For instance, if you are taking your dose to reduce stress at work rather than physical pain, you are on the path to addiction.

Your prescription will specify your dosage and the number of times you can take the medicine. Stick to this regime or you might fall into an addiction trap.

If you feel like you are getting addicted, talk to your doctor. You can ask your family members for help as you go through your medication routine.

Before you take on strong medications, talk to your doctor about alternative therapies such as acupuncture or massage therapy. In some cases, these might help make the pain tolerable enough to avoid potentially addictive drugs.