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Pain and Addiction: Going Up the Down Escalator

Hopefully you’ve read our first blog about patients who have a dual diagnosis of an illness that causes pain along with an addiction to the pain medication. It’s a frightening prospect, because it’s a situation that can seem like a vicious cycle. How can you manage your pain if you are forced to go into a recovery program? How can you face the issues of addiction if you’re struggling with unrelenting pain?

A Scary Prospect

Many people worry if this addiction means they can never again take pain medication. That’s a frightening prospect, since there are many pain-evoking illnesses out there that may or may not be in a person’s future. While old school treatment mandated that narcotic pain medications could no longer be an option for the addicted person, there are newer therapies that will help a patient in recovery to treat any new pain issues with a properly managed course of medication.

Alternative Treatments

The best or most up-to-date substance abuse treatment centers are incorporating alternative therapies into their recovery programs. Participating in these can be especially useful for the person who is managing pain as well as beginning the long road to recovery.

Exercise. Whenever we exercise, the body releases neurotransmitters called endorphins. They are biochemical sent from one neuron receptor to the next within the brain, and they tell the body that a stimulus has been recognized. Whether it’s pain, fear, or even eating hot peppers, the brain recognizes the stimulus and produces its natural response—the feel-good endorphins that help the body recover from the stimulus.

Scientists actually discovered the mechanism of endorphins in the 1970s when they were studying the effects of opioids on the brain. Heroin or opiate medications, such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, and others, react specifically with these same receptors. It’s ironic that the study of opioids led scientists to discover the body’s own natural opiates. These various endorphins—there are about 20 of them—block the body’s ability to feel pain. They also stimulate the hypothalamus, in the brain’s limbic system, to actually feel pleasure. So, even if you don’t feel like getting up, it’s best to do so. If you can’t stand, move your upper body. Just get moving!

NSAIDS.  Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) like Celebrix and Ibuprofen reduce tissue inflammation and help the body deal with pain. Aspirin is also an NSAID, and so is Aleve (naproxen). You have to be careful not to take multiple NSAID medications, so even though many of them are over-the-counter medications, you should still manage them under a doctor’s care.

SSRI and SNRI Medications. These letters stand for medications that work as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. They refer to the brain’s use of serotonin and norepinephrine, two of the main neurotransmitters. In some people who suffer from anxiety or depression, these medications can inhibit the brain from reabsorbing the naturally produced serotonin or norepinephrine, thus enabling the person to feel better. Two common SSRI and SNRI medications, Celexa (an SSRI) and Cymbalta (an SNRI) have been used off label for effective pain management.

Hypnosis, Yoga. Once eschewed as a parlor game, hypnosis was recognized in 1996 by the National Cancer Institute for its help in ameliorating pain. It helps the person utilize meditation techniques to achieve control over his pain. Yoga or other movement classes combine the same positive effects of meditation with the boosts of endorphins that comes with exercise.

Acupuncture.  Some 3.1 million Americans reported using acupuncture annually, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Most often it is used to treat back pain, followed by joint pain, as well as neck pain, migraines, and general recurring pain.

If you or someone in your family is struggling with the dual diagnosis of a pain-causing illness along with an addiction to the pain medication, look for a drug abuse treatment center with therapists qualified to address both diagnoses, which also offers alternative therapies for a successful resolution of these issues.

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