According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a reported 116 million people are living with some form of chronic pain in the United States.

There are many methods to treat pain and keep it under control, but the go-to option is often one of the most dangerous and addiction-prone: prescription painkillers.

Opiates were the primary drug of abuse for 26% of the admissions to US treatment facilities in 2012, per the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. These aren’t the sole option for pain relief. Pain management programs serve millions each year with alternative and holistic methods of care that often prove to be more effective than traditional means.

Many individuals who are addicted to pain relievers ended up in that position after taking the drugs for months or years on end to treat their persistent pain. These people don’t intend to abuse drugs but use them as needed to mitigate their discomfort. Over time, they form a tolerance to a given drug. It often doesn’t take long for full-fledged addiction to develop.

For these individuals, the prospect of rehab can be daunting because they think it means a return of their pain. But recovery doesn’t have to be synonymous with pain. There are pain management methods that don’t involve the use of prescription painkillers. There are options for pain management in addiction recovery.


Every year, people visit their doctors with hope of finding relief for their back pain, chronic migraines. and diseases like fibromyalgia. An estimated 3-5 percent of people who are medicated with opioids later develop problems with addiction, according to the Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Few of these people could have ever imagined they’d end up dependent on the pills and patches their doctor prescribed. Many believe that if a doctor prescribes the medication, it can’t be that harmful.

Opioid abuse poses serious risks to one’s health, including respiratory depression and coma. Consumer Reports notes almost 17,000 people die from an overdose on these drugs every year. Sadly, many of them started using these drugs merely in an effort to find relief from pain. Among addicts who are in methadone and buprenorphine treatment programs for opioid addiction, 34-40% have complaints of persistent pain, according to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

Muscle relaxers and more

Some types of pain can be treated efficiently with muscle relaxants. These drugs work by calming nerve impulses that cause muscles to twitch and become tense. The potential for abuse is high since addicts are partial to the relaxing and sedating effects these drugs induce.

Statistics point toward a possible increase in popularity among certain muscle relaxants. For instance, in 2004, there were 6,183 admissions to American emergency rooms linked to the use of cyclobenzaprine, and that number jumped more than twofold to 12,411 in 2010, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Over-the-counter remedies

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and non-aspirin medications, such as acetaminophen, are popularly prescribed for the treatment of mild to moderate pain. Often, physicians will recommend larger doses of these drugs in cases of more intense pain. The likelihood of abuse of these drugs isn’t high, but misuse does come with risks.

The abuse of ibuprofen can lead to stomach bleeding, heart attack and even renal failure. Science Daily reported on one study in which 71 percent of people who regularly used NSAIDs for three months or longer had damage to their small intestines as a result.

Many people believe acetaminophen is one of the safest OTC drugs on the market when it’s actually highly toxic. More than 100,000 people call Poison Control Centers every year with concerns related to acetaminophen, which claims 150 lives a year in overdose cases, Mercola reports.

Treating pain during rehab

Integrated treatment is vital for addicts who have been abusing pain medications as a method of self-treatment.

The average pain management program can offer relief via a variety of treatment approaches, including but not limited to:

  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic care
  • Massage therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Electrotherapy
  • Alternating heat and ice, topically
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Exercise
  • Surgery
  • Non-addictive medications

Acupuncture came to American from China many years ago and continues to prove its worth in the treatment of both pain and substance abuse. In one treatment study of people with chronic pain, half of them reported relief from acupuncture versus just 42 percent in the placebo group that received faux acupuncture and 30 percent who received no acupuncture, per ABC News.

Other therapies show promise in pain management. A few rounds of chiropractic care can reduce pain levels significantly, especially for those with joint discomfort. Massage and physical therapy are beneficial remedies for just about anyone. Both can aid in relaxing tight muscles and building strength in lieu of muscle relaxants like Valium. Applying heat and ice to injured areas can be helpful for bouts of acute pain.

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Exercise is one of the most helpful methods of pain management. Surgery is a last resort in many cases and not a feasible option for everyone who experiences pain. NPR reports only around 5 percent of individuals who suffer from back pain are a good fit for surgical procedures.

Non-addictive medications are another option for individuals who cannot find enough relief in these alternatives. For those who suffer from pain in conjunction with depression, antidepressants may be prescribed, and these are generally non-addictive. These drugs fall into the SSRI class – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. These medications work by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin so that it floods the brain and heightens the user’s mood.

Most pain management clinics employ various professionals, ranging from nurses to doctors to physical therapists. Many of these facilities are equipped to work in tandem with the rehab center of your choosing, while other treatment institutions can handle pain management on site. The best choice you can make is to seek help from a facility that focuses on treating the body and the mind. Most of these programs will incorporate therapy into the treatment regimen to help you figure out what factors led to addictive behavior and how to break free of those factors for good.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.