holistic alternative to opioids

Holistic Opioid Alternatives for Chronic Pain

Opioids work directly on the parts of the brain that perceive pain. They are derived from the opium poppy and are the main ingredient to many painkillers. Once they are taken, they act on what are called opioid receptors, present in the brain, spinal cord, and even the digestive tract. Then, they block pain signals and generate morphine-like symptoms on the body.

These receptors are also the ones that allow people to feel pleasure. So while they also lower perception of pain, they also make a person feel relaxed. That is why the chemical and neurological effects of opioids can often lead to addiction

As a legal drug, opioids, or opiates, are used for pain management for moderate to severe pain. They require prescription and monitoring, and in most cases, they should be used for short periods of time. However, some conditions might require some form of pain management for long. Cases of chronic pain or even cancer require long-term use of painkillers.

In this case, a doctor will tell a person the best way and dosage to consume, and for how long. It is crucial that the doctor’s orders are followed, because of the high risk of addiction, and other side effects.

The Opioid Crisis

It is not rare for people to become dependent or addicted to opioids, especially after using it for too long. While they are controlled substances, their effects can only be predicted if used correctly. And even then, there is still a risk. In fact, as of now, the U.S. is going through what is considered an opioid crisis.

Studies have shown that this opioid crisis started in 1999. The year marks the rise of prescription opioid overdose deaths. That was the “first wave” of the said crisis. Next, around 2010, is when the second wave started. The main culprit for deaths was heroin. Not long after, the third and current wave began. It was in 2013, and the drugs that have been causing alarming reports of deaths since are synthetic opioids.

Missouri has not been immune to this wave, either. From 2015 to 2017, the number of synthetic opioid-related deaths almost tripled. However, the number of deaths reported involving prescription opioids hasn’t improved much, either. Since 2010, an average of 250 people has died every year, with yearly numbers reported staying between 200 and 300.

The Dangers of Opioids

As stated, one of the possible outcomes of opioid use is dependence. In the case of prolonged use, one might become tolerant and require higher and higher doses. As for addiction, a person with a tendency for dependence might develop a substance use disorder after treatment.

There are many side effects and symptoms that come from the constant use of opiates. Some of them are: 

  • Sedation (excessive in higher doses)
  • Dizziness, drowsiness
  • Nausea and/or vomiting 
  • Constipation 
  • Physical dependence and/or tolerance
  • Respiratory depression
  • Muscle rigidity and/or spasm
  • Immunologic dysfunction
  • Hormonal dysfunction
  • Increased sensitivity to pain

Although every drug has its side effects, opioids can have some of the most dangerous ones. Its use needs to be closely followed by a doctor, and their instructions need to be followed. For some, however, holistic opioid alternatives might be the only way to go.

Holistic Opioid Alternatives For Treatment

For many, using opioids for pain management is not an option. Family history of addiction or previous experiences with dependency are factors that might discourage someone from taking them. These might actually be reasons why a doctor won’t prescribe opioids, even. These factors put the person at a risk group for addiction to opioids.

But whatever the reason might be, there are healthy, holistic opioid alternatives. Now, the right choice for you would depend on the health condition you are dealing with. But there are options for many different purposes.

Chronic, Physical Pain Holistic Opioid Alternatives

Persistent, physical pain might not have a cure depending on the condition. But even in these cases, there are multiple ways to lessen the pain without using meds. Some of the effects of physical stimuli and stressors can be dealt with through holistic treatment or therapy.

Acupuncture – One of the most popular holistic opioid alternatives for pain management. The technique is comprised of light needle punctures on specific parts of the body. The goal is to place them in a way where the pain signals are cut. Some practitioners might also add in electrical stimulation, a version of the technique which is called electroacupuncture. Generally, a person is supposed to feel numbness, distension, or even tingling in the areas the needles go. 

Massages – There are many different techniques to choose from, so you can experiment until you find what works for you. Shiatsu, Swedish, cross-fiber – there are many to pick from. A professional might be able to recommend the right type of massage for you. Each is meant to mix friction and pressure techniques for different purposes and ends.

 

Physical Therapy – a mix of exercises, kinesiology (the study of body movement), and shockwave/electrotherapy, physical therapy is the complete package. It is often used even to treat veterans, and others who have had strenuous exercise and severe wear of muscles, cartilage, and/or bones. Probably the most effective, albeit intense, holistic opioid alternative for physical pain.

 

Cupping – While not a new technique, it has recently become more commonly used among practitioners. Cupping is done by applying local suction on the skin with round utensils. This is meant to help blood flow and avoid blood stagnation or energy. People might get it for pain, inflammation, relaxation, and even as a deep-tissue massage. It is not rare for people to pair cupping with other holistic opioid alternatives for pain, as well.

 

Chiropractic Care – Described as treatment through manipulation of the spine, there are literally more than 200 chiropractic techniques. The reason for focusing on the spine is because it is the center of the nervous system. In layman’s terms, chiropractors use techniques that help “crack” the spine and readjust the positioning of posture. It is a common holistic opioid alternative for pain management, with many professionals easily found almost everywhere.

Alternative Medication 

For those going through major, severe complications, not all of the previous options are possible. People who need holistic opioid alternatives while battling cancer, for instance, might have limited choices. In this case, there are some medications and less intense remedies that can help with the pain.

 

Acetaminophen – Mostly recommended for cases of mild to moderate pain. It is known by other popular brand names, such as Tylenol, or as paracetamol. It is also used for treatment for severe pain for cancer patients or post-surgery recovery. However, they are only safe if the patient takes the recommended dosages. 

 

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) – In many cases, inflammation is the main culprit for chronic pain. In these cases, an NSAID might be the safest opioid alternative. As they reduce swelling, this might help reduce or stop the pain altogether. However, they should be taken cautiously, since they can cause cardiovascular and/or gastrointestinal problems. 

 

Non-opioid Prescription Drugs – There are other controlled, prescription drugs that can be used for pain management. Tricyclic antidepressants, for instance, are often used for nerve, muscular, or skeletal pain. Anticonvulsants/anti-seizure medication can also be an alternative to opioids. These, however, are not taken only when needed and need to be taken on a daily basis, with or without pain. Otherwise, they might not be effective, either.

 

While holistic opioid alternatives might have some side effects, they are more predictable than most opiates. Some of these solutions might only be adequate for short periods of time. Prolonged use of some of those drugs could cause ulcers, blood clotting issues, liver and/or kidney problems, and the list goes on. 

 

Self-medication, however, is never the best answer. Any medication you might take should be done so through the recommendation of a doctor. Only a professional can tell you how to best treat your pain, especially in the long term. Some drugs can cause a bad, maybe even lethal reaction if combined with others. So always consult with a doctor before taking anything.

Getting Treatment 

If you become addicted to opioids either through treatment or use of illicit drugs, you are not alone. Right now, you are one of many, many more who deal with the struggle of opioid addiction. But it doesn’t have to be like this for long. Opioid addiction can be managed, and there is treatment available for those in need. And we at Sana Lake Recovery Center want to help you get through it.

 

Along with our many options, we offer a holistic approach to recovery. We believe that treatment can be even more than chemistry and meds. It is also about the mind, the body, and the spirit as well. While we provide psychiatric and medical aid, we also offer neuropathic, holistic, and wellness programming. 

 

So if this sounds like what you or a loved one might need, visit our website and contact us today. You can learn about all the options we have for you and the tools we can give you to get better. Our team will be glad to guide you through this journey not just into sobriety, but into a healthier, happier life.

 

References:

https://www.asahq.org/whensecondscount/pain-management/non-opioid-treatment/

https://www.smartrecovery.org/7-safe-alternatives-to-opiates-for-those-in-recovery/

https://www.asra.com/page/46/treatment-options-for-chronic-pain

https://medlineplus.gov/opioidmisuseandaddiction.html

https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html

Article Reviewed by David Sherman, MD

David Sherman, MDDavid Sherman, MD is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (FASAM) and board certified in Addiction Medicine with the American Board of Preventive Medicine. He is a native Missourian and graduated medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. Dr. Sherman completed a two-year fellowship in Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He leads a highly trained staff of master level certified addiction professionals. Men and women from all over Missouri and the United States come to Sana Lake Recovery Center to get the care they need and deserve.

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