The dramatic surge in the use of prescription drugs in America is now influencing even those groups that were traditionally not associated with heavy opioid abuse. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), drug overdose is a leading cause of premature deaths, with 2014 witnessing 47,055 fatal drug overdoses.
Though opioids are among the most effective drugs used for the treatment of pain, there are growing concerns about their effectiveness and safety in treating critical cases. The fact that legal opioids, which are used for pain relief, are misused and abuse by many is posing a big challenge to the clinical community.
A 2016 study by the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center has found that meditation and mindfulness practices can be a powerful treatment for chronic pain, even without the help from the body’s pain-blocking process and opioid receptors.
As part of the study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, Dr. Fadel Zeidan, assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, and his colleagues enrolled 78 healthy volunteers and divided them into four categories. The first group got naloxone – which blocks pain-reducing effects of opioids – and practiced meditation, the second practiced meditation but did not take naloxone, the third group practiced meditation along with a saline placebo, while the fourth received only placebo without meditation.
The research team used a thermal probe to induce pain in the participants and asked them to measure their pain level through a sliding scale. According to the results, pain ratings dropped by 24 percent for the group that received meditation and naloxone. Pain ratings decreased by 21 percent for the group that meditated and received the saline injection, while participants who did not meditate at all saw an increase in the level of pain.
“Our finding was surprising and could be important for the millions of chronic pain sufferers who are seeking a fast-acting, non-opiate-based therapy to alleviate their pain. Our team has demonstrated across four separate studies that meditation, after a short training period, can reduce experimentally induced pain. And now this study shows that meditation doesn’t work through the body’s opioid system,” said Zeidan.
According to another report – “Pathways to Prevention: The Role of Opioids in the Treatment of Chronic Pain,” published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2014 – more researches are required to find drug-free alternatives for the treatment of pain.
Chronic pain is frustrating and saddening. A 2014 study by Daniela Kaufer of the University of California, Berkeley, and her colleagues revealed that the increased levels of cortisol due to chronic stress can hamper the brain volume and connectivity. The study was published in the Adult Hippocampus.
Another study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology in October 2015, said that “loving-kindness meditation and nurturing feelings of gratitude could possibly trigger brain changes that activate the anterior cingulate cortex which is also related to pain reduction.”
Path to recovery
A habitual opioid use can cause not only obvious changes in behavior and personality, but also irritability, restlessness and anxiety. When an addict develops a tolerance to the increased levels of the drug, it creates long-term changes in the brain’s reward system. Opioid dependence can have far-reaching effects and it may hinder an individual’s ability to make decisions and can lead to frequent cravings. This is when a person needs professional help.
If you or your loved one is trying to overcome an addiction, get in touch with the Prescription Drug Addiction Helpline for immediate medical assistance. You may call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-623-3847 or chat online for further information.