For those in chronic pain, it’s understandable that pain relief is the goal. Pain relief usually involves medications that are meant to either mask or ameliorate the pain. Typically, doctors start by prescribing a mild analgesic, such as Tylenol or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – think Motrin, Advil, or Aleve. When those are deemed ineffective, prescribed medication choices branch out to antidepressants, corticosteroids, and anticonvulsants. The last line of defense is opiates, which includes drugs such as hydrocodone and tramadol. Some medications may be taken orally, others topically, and still others via injection.

Starting painkillers is relatively easy, even with unwanted side effects. Getting off painkillers can be much more difficult. If you’re interested in and ready to set the painkillers aside, here are the steps you should take.

  1. Make a Plan

Without a timeline and an action plan, your dream of kicking painkillers will remain just that – a dream. With a timeline and action plan, your dream becomes a goal. Your plan should be to taper off the painkillers rather than stop cold turkey. Stopping suddenly can cause withdrawal symptoms and a dramatic increase in pain. Weaning off over time will give your body time to adjust.

  1. Form a Support Network

Regardless of where you are in your health journey, you need support. Reflect upon the people you trust and the skills and talents each person possesses. Map those skills and talents to needs you’ll have as you taper off of painkillers. For example, one friend might provide the shoulder you cry on, while another completes concrete tasks like cooking nutritious meals. A family member may be available to drive you to appointments, while another picks up your kids from school.

It’s difficult to rely on other people for help, but it’s crucial that you take the leap and ask for what you need. Your resolve to move past painkillers will be that much stronger when you have a network of people supporting you.

  1. Loop in Your Healthcare Team

Discuss your plan with your doctor or health practitioners. They can be a valuable resource in guiding you through your journey, and can suggest the best way to lower your dose over time. Perhaps decreasing your dose by ten percent every week is wise, or maybe they’ll suggest a different path. In addition, your healthcare team may be able to offer options for medications or alternative remedies to ease symptoms as you wean off of painkillers.

  1. Expand Your Toolkit

Painkillers may have become your primary – or only – tool in your arsenal to fight chronic pain. Before you begin to taper off of painkillers, expand your toolkit. For example, this may be a good time to begin water aerobics, yoga, or Pilates. Research natural sleep aids in case your sleep is disrupted from withdrawal symptoms or pain. Consider meditation as a way of controlling your breathing and your pain. Make a list of books you’ve wanted to read, shows you’ve wanted to watch, or hobbies you’ve wanted to try. Distractions can be helpful during the tapering process.

Weaning off of painkillers has many rewards. By tapering the dosage rather than stopping all at once, you can avoid many of the downsides. Nevertheless, equipping yourself with a plan and a support system will help you achieve your goal.

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