Opioid medications like OxyContin and Vicodin are commonly used to treat pain, but they’re highly addictive and carry a risk of dependence and overdose. Drugs like these are frequently abused—for a variety of reasons—and are a mainstay in the current opioid epidemic that has swept the nation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths involving prescription opioids have quadrupled since 1999. In 2015 alone, more than 15,000 people died from an overdose of opioid painkillers.

Nearly two million Americans abused or were addicted to these medications in 2014. The CDC points out that one in four people who uses prescription opioids for long-term, non-cancer pain struggles with addiction to their medication.

Chronic pain is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. If you struggle with chronic pain and use opioids to treat it, you may be at risk of becoming addicted or dependent. You may also experience opioid-induced hyperalgesia, which is characterized by the opioid medications actually increasing and spreading the pain rather than reducing it.

Researchers at the University of Michigan’s Comprehensive Musculoskeletal Center stress that pain is often a multidisciplinary problem that requires a holistic, multi-pronged approach to treatment. Depending on the nature and severity of your pain, one or more of these alternatives to opioid painkillers may work for you.

Non-Opioid Pain Medications

Pain medications like acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, can reduce many kinds of pain very effectively. Additionally, adjuvant medications can also reduce pain as well as improve sleep and mood. Adjuvant medications are those which aren’t designed to treat pain, but which may help manage it. Some antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, and sedatives are included in this group.

Steroid Injections

Inflammation and pain related to the joints, tendons, and bursae may respond to steroid injections. Injected right into the area of pain, cortisone injections can reduce pain for the short-term, but they don’t typically work to reduce pain for the long-term. Cortisone injections are usually part of a broader pain management plan.

Chiropractic Care

For pain related to neuromuscular disorders like multiple sclerosis, chiropractic care has been shown through some studies to reduce pain. Chiropractors manipulate the spine to readjust alignment to reduce pain, improve body function and promote whole-body healing. They also provide a variety of other treatments, including posture education, ergonomic training and ultrasound, and laser therapies. According to Harvard Medical School, chiropractic care has also been shown to be helpful for back pain, migraines, neck pain and pain from whiplash.


This ancient Chinese practice involves inserting long, thin needles into the skin at certain points on the body. This is believed to improve the flow of energy through the body and stimulate the immune system to help ease the pain. Research shows that acupuncture works best for joint and orthopedic pain. One review of studies involving 18,000 patients, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that this practice relieved pain by about 50 percent.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Research shows that cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, which focuses on changing unhealthy thought and behavior patterns, can help change your behaviors and perceptions and increase self-confidence to help you better manage pain. CBT has a small to moderate effect on decreasing pain for the long-term, and it has an important positive impact on your mood, which can be dramatically altered due to long-term pain.

Talk to Your Doctor

If you suffer from chronic pain and wish to end your reliance on opioids for treating it, talk to your pain management team about alternative and complementary treatments that may help you reduce or manage your pain without powerful medications. Doing so may help you more effectively control your pain while improving your mood and overall sense of well-being.


  1. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/overdose.html
  2. http://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/health-management/medications-mindfulness-and-more-alternatives-to-opioids-for-treating-pain
  3. https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/chiropractic-care-for-pain-relief
  4. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1357513