Don’t Quit Cold Turkey: Dealing With Pain in Sobriety

black and white - hand curled in pain on leg or back - closeup - pain

When people recover from substance abuse, everything isn’t automatically okay. It might be hard to hear that, but it’s essential to understand that your body and mind went through major changes because of drugs or alcohol. This fact is one of the primary reasons why people are cautioned not to quit cold turkey, but instead work with professionals through a medically-supervised detoxification.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Typical withdrawal symptoms from alcohol, prescription pain medication, opioids, and other narcotics include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Chronic pain from substances, lack thereof, or another health condition
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Fevers and chills
  • Heart palpitations
  • High blood pressure
  • Insomnia or excessive wakefulness
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe headaches or migraines
  • Tremors

Instead of experiencing all this at once, inpatient rehabilitation facility professionals create a plan to make you as comfortable as possible while withdrawal happens over a couple of days, or maybe a week or two.

But how do you cope with pain after you move through recovery and commit to staying sober? Unfortunately, some people continue to experience both emotional and physical pain while sober. Sometimes, for a few people, the damage caused by substances creates new health challenges, often in the form of heart, liver, or kidney disease; hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, and other infectious diseases; and even cancer. Others might already have a chronic condition such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, or multiple sclerosis; or have another neurological or musculoskeletal condition that requires special management.

And from time to time, individuals may experience an illness or injury that requires pain abatement, but they want to do all they can not to take anything that might threaten their sobriety, especially if they were once addicted to opiates.

Fortunately, there are many different ways to successfully manage pain without the use of substances. Some of these options may be different than what you’re used to, but they provide effective relief for many people.

Ways to Manage Pain While Sober

Your regular health care provider may or may not be in support of some more holistic applications. But keep in mind: most of these modalities have regulatory boards and strict specifications providers have to follow. A combination of Western and alternative treatments is often referred to as functional or integrative medicine. There are many world-renowned physicians who specialize in this approach, including Andrew Weil, Amy Myers, Mark Hyman, and Terry Wahls, to name a few.

When seeking alternative pain management therapies, research options carefully and seek out qualified practitioners. Remember—not all methods work for each person, and some aren’t covered by certain insurance plans. But the majority of people find relief in the following alternatives:


This ancient Chinese method stimulates nerves, muscles, and connective tissue. This helps to increase blood flow and engage the body’s natural pain killers. Some people also use acupuncture for other conditions. Yes, teensy needles are used but no, they don’t hurt.


Through the use of electrodes, breathing techniques, and relaxation exercises, biofeedback therapists can help people acknowledge the pain while lessening the nervous system reaction.

Chiropractic care

Working with the musculoskeletal system, chiropractors make a series of adjustments in various areas throughout the body. They may also use techniques such as muscle stimulation, balance exercises, immunotherapy, and others.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Always remember that how we feel emotionally and mentally can manifest physical pain symptoms. Working through new techniques and coping mechanisms can lessen the impact of pain and reframe how people perceive it.


Used for decades by athletes and people managing rheumatoid arthritis, this intense cold treatment helps with muscle and joint pain, sudden injury, and other issues. This treatment isn’t for everyone, but many who use it experience progressive improvement.

Myofascial release therapy

Fascial tissues support and surround the muscles, which is a good thing. But if they’re restricted in some way, usually due to injury or repetitive motion, you’ll notice this in a variety of ways. Myofascial release creates elasticity in the tissues and their connective points to provide pain relief and increase mobility.

Nerve blocking and injections

To target specific nerve clusters and reduced heightened pain sensitivity, this method allows for isolated treatment so pain signals don’t reach the brain. Patients can treat one area to reduce discomfort, but medication doesn’t enter the bloodstream. Often the treatment is a concentrated steroid injection or local anesthetic.

Non-narcotic medications

Specialized and monitored doses of over-the-counter pain remedies are often part of a post-surgical plan, and many people suffer no ill effects afterward.

Physical therapy

A therapist provides a series of movements designed to help you regain previous mobility or reduce consistent pain. What most people don’t know about PT is while your attending physician may prescribe a key number of sessions for you, you can also seek out PT without a doctor’s recommendation. It’s always good to complete whatever plan your physical therapist details for you and continue to do the exercises.


Gentle yoga combined with breathing techniques increases circulation, releases tension, improves muscle and joint mobility, and eases pain. The stress-relieving benefits of yoga provide enhanced mental and emotional wellness, too. If you can’t do a mat yoga sequence, consider another option, like yoga in a chair.

How Willingway Can Help

You don’t have to live a life of pain in sobriety. Talk with your supervising treatment counselor about these and other options to maintain your best health.

To find out more about services offered by Willingway, including medical detox in Georgia, contact us 24 hours a day at 912-207-7227, and let us help you get started on the road to recovery.Willingway - Addiction Treatment Experts