Treating Pain Without Opioids: Avoiding Addiction to Painkillers

The opioid epidemic continues to claim over 100 lives every single day. Treating pain without opioids is the best way to avoid addiction.

A study published in JAMA found that up to 6.5 percent of people who are prescribed opioid painkillers for the first time after surgery develop an opioid use disorder. Understanding your risk of developing an addiction and treating pain without opioids whenever possible is the best way to avoid becoming addicted.

Opioid Abuse, Addiction, and Dependence

Opioid abuse is the act of using opioids in a way other than exactly as prescribed. Common ways people abuse opioids include using someone else’s opioid prescription to treat your own pain; taking your own pills in higher doses or taking them more frequently than your doctor prescribed, either to reduce pain or get high; and using your own or someone else’s prescription opioids to get high. Treating pain without opioids should always be the first approach to pain management.

According to the 2012 National Health Interview Survey, two-thirds of people who abused opioids that year did so in an attempt to relieve their pain. Only 10 percent of people who responded to the survey said that they abused opioids in order to get high.

Opioid abuse can quickly lead to addiction and dependence. Opioid addiction is characterized by compulsive opioid abuse despite the negative consequences it causes. Once addiction develops, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, professional help is almost always needed to end it for good.

Dependence is characterized by withdrawal symptoms that set in when you stop using opioids suddenly. Opioid dependence should ideally be treated through medication-assisted treatment that prevents withdrawal and helps to normalize brain function while providing a counseling component that helps to address the addiction.

Treating Pain Without Opioids

The best method for treating pain without opioids is to take a multi-faceted approach to pain management. But the treatment of chronic pain without opioids is used by fewer than 200,000 people, according to the American Journal of Public Health. That’s because in many cases, insurance companies won’t cover complementary and alternative treatments. Additionally, the number of non-opioid pain management programs are very limited.

One or more of the following treatments have been shown effective for treating some kinds of pain. The successful treatment of chronic pain without opioids requires trying what’s available and seeing if it works for you. Only after all treatments have proven ineffective for you should you consider opioids.

Non-Opioid Pain Relievers

Non-opioid painkillers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen are effective for treating pain without opioids for a variety of pain conditions. Other medications, such as some antidepressants and anti-seizure medications, have also been shown effective for treating pain.


Pain due to joint, tendon, and bursae inflammation can be effectively treated with corisone injections, which are administered at the site of the pain. However, steroids are typically effective only for short-term pain and don’t work as well for long-term, chronic pain.


The long, thin needles that are inserted at pressure points around the body during acupuncture improve the flow of energy and stimulate the immune system. Acupuncture is effective for treating pain without opioids for a number of conditions, including fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, sports injuries, and back pain.

Chiropractic Care 

Chiropractic care involves a variety of interventions, including spinal manipulation, ergonomics training, ultrasound therapies, posture education, and laser treatments. Chiropractic care has been shown effective for migraines, back and neck pain, whiplash, and neuromuscular disorders.


Exercise can reduce some types of chronic pain with great success. Exercise interventions include programs that promote strength, flexibility, balance, range of motion, and core strength. These can not only reduce pain, but they can also improve physical function and overall quality of life.

Stress Reduction

Stress increases pain, and reducing stress can alleviate it. For those with chronic stress and chronic pain, stress reduction techniques like yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and biofeedback can help.


Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been shown to help people change their thought and behavior patterns surrounding their pain, and this can lead to better coping skills and less overall pain. Therapy helps people learn to live with pain that can’t be effectively treated, improving mood and quality of life.

Pain Skills Workshops

Developing coping skills for pain and engaging in a high level of self-care is effective for treating pain without opioids. Pain skills workshops teach practical skills like self-massage and stress reduction as well as skills like time management, using distractions to reduce pain, and understanding the mechanics behind pain.

Treating pain without opioids is ideal for preventing abuse, addiction, and dependence on opioid pain medications. It can prove as effective–or moreso–than opioid treatment and carries far fewer negative side effects. If you’re in pain, talk to your doctor about treating pain without opioids to see what works for you.

If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

is a proud alumni member of WhiteSands Treatment. After living a life of chaos, destruction and constant let downs, Mark was able to make a complete turnaround that sparked a new way of life. He is serious about his recovery along with helping others. At WhiteSands Treatment, we offer support to you in your homes or when you are out living in your daily lives.