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People working programs of addiction recovery know the dangers of prescription medicine full well. Each of us is familiar with the American opioid addiction epidemic; most know that more than 100 Americans die from an overdose every day. Still, some situations may warrant the use of a painkiller. For men and women in recovery, turning to drugs to treat a medical ailment can be a slippery slope toward relapse.

It doesn’t matter if you have experience with opioid misuse or not, or any prescription drug with the potential for abuse. One should avoid any substance that can elicit euphoria, especially if in recovery.

Unfortunately, aging Americans and people with debilitating injuries have physical ailments that cause chronic pain. Nobody should have to suffer from pain—chronic or otherwise needlessly. The general public may not think twice about taking prescription opioids they acquire legally from a pharmacy. However, men and women in recovery must carefully consider the possible ramifications of accepting pain medicine from a doctor.

Prescription drugs have led to many relapses among people in recovery. It’s relatively common; a person goes to the doctor complaining of discomfort and leaves with a new script. At first, there may not be a problem; the patient in recovery takes their drugs as prescribed, and life continues.

It’s worth noting that a significant number of people in recovery have been prescribed narcotics and managed to keep their program intact. If someone has a strong foundation supporting their recovery and remains accountable, then he or she can take prescription narcotics for a limited time as prescribed.

Nevertheless, there is always the risk that doing so will awaken something inside; once that happens, they have two choices: stop or let the disease take back control. Most people in long-term recovery would agree that accepting a prescription for pain is not wise. They would probably say the same regarding medications for anxiety or attention deficit disorders (i.e., Xanax or Adderall).

Managing Pain Without Prescription Opioids


There is a significant body of research suggesting that prescription opioids are not the most effective way to manage pain, especially chronic discomfort. Not only do opioids provide temporary relief, but they also lose efficacy over time. Tolerance develops, and one needs to take larger doses to find relief. There are other, safer methods for contending with pain-inducing ailments that do not carry the risk of addiction.

One of the techniques for addressing chronic pain may seem counterintuitive to you at first. Researchers suggest that exercise may be the answer for some people who live with persistent discomfort. Patti Neighmond of NPR sat down with Emma Dean, 44, who has osteoarthritis in both knees. Dean tells Neighmond that just climbing stairs was a grueling ordeal; she says, “it almost feels like a tearing of the ligaments in the knee, and that’s what causes the pain.”

Emma sought help at the Thurston Arthritis Research Center at the University of North Carolina, according to the interview. She was instructed to start taking regular walks as a means of reducing her pain.

Reticent at first, but she decided to give it a try; in the beginning, Emma felt stiff and tired. A few days later things changed for Dean, her joints felt looser, and she was in a better mood. Now, Emma takes five 40 minute walks a week, and her knees don’t hurt anymore.

If you are skeptical about this story, then you’re probably not alone. If you have chronic pain, then the thought of exercising to treat your pain may seem illogical. So, how does exercise combat pain? Neighmond points out that, “exercise builds muscle strength, reduces joint stiffness and inflammation.” Beyond that, there is a neurochemical element to the pain-relieving effects of exercise.

Opioids In Our Brains

Benedict Kolber with Duquesne University in Pittsburgh tells Neighmond that the brain changes when we exercise. He says our brain produces opioids naturally to respond to pain.

“Exercise engages your, what we call, endogenous opioid system. So our bodies make opioids, and we use these opioids, or your body uses these opioids, to decrease pain.” 

Still, Kolber says there may be limitations to the practice of exercising to treat pain. He says exercise reduces stress which makes people less sensitive to pain. Kolber conducted a study and found that more is better when it comes to physical activity. Participants in the research who only exercised three times a week did not experience the same pain sensitivity reductions as those who walked five or ten times.

Please take a moment to listen to the NPR story:

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Talk to your doctor if you are in recovery and struggle with chronic pain. Perhaps introducing a walking regimen to your lifestyle will help reduce your discomfort. It is a safer alternative to taking a prescription drug, and exercise may be better at killing pain than painkillers.

Southern California Addiction Treatment

At Hope By The Sea, we can help you, or a loved one with prescription opioid addiction. We offer detoxification and treatment for opioid use disorders. Our team provides clients with the tools to lead a life free from drugs and alcohol. Please contact us today to learn how the miracle of recovery can be yours too.