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  • Opioids are effective pain relievers but carry an increased risk of dependence and addiction as well as adverse health effects. If you or a loved one has ever experienced opioid dependence or addiction, treating severe pain without opioids may be possible

    Although each person’s situation is different, there are a wide variety of non-opioid treatment options

    Non-opioid medications, like Tylenol and Advil, are considered less harmful and non-addictive. In addition to over-the-counter medications, there are many non-opioid prescription medications that can treat the effects of severe pain

    Do Non-Opioids Work For Severe Pain?

    Non-opioids are a safer alternative and, depending on the person, may offer pain relief for severe pain. Some researchers believe non-opioids should be used more often in place of opioids, especially for treating postoperative pain.

    Prioritizing the use of non-opioid medications can reduce the side effects and risks associated with opioids.

    Non-opioids reduce the risk of opioid-related adverse effects, including:

    • nausea
    • vomiting
    • constipation
    • sedation
    • overdose
    • dependence
    • addiction 

    One study found that opioids were not any more effective than non-opioids over a 12-month period. 

    In addition, the participants who received opioids reported more adverse health effects than those who received non-opioids. In fact, some opioids may even increase sensitivity to pain in some people. 

    Opioids Vs. Non-Opioids

    Opioids are potent analgesics (painkillers) and typically used in the treatment of severe or chronic pain. They may be necessary for certain situations but are usually only prescribed if non-opioid medications are ineffective. 

    Opioids pose a risk of dependence, abuse, and addiction when used frequently or long-term. In high doses, there is an increased risk of respiratory depression, which can be life-threatening. 

    Common opioid pain medications include:

    • morphine
    • fentanyl
    • oxycodone

    Non-opioid analgesics are available over-the-counter or with a prescription. These medications may be effective for treating severe, chronic, or acute pain. 

    Sometimes non-opioids are combined with opioids to treat severe pain. Non-opioid analgesics are not known to cause dependence or overdose when taken appropriately. 

    Common non-opioid medications include:

    • Tylenol
    • Advil
    • Aleve

    Types Of Non-Opioid Painkillers

    Depending on the severity and type of pain, there is a variety of non-opioid treatment options. Anti-inflammatories, anti-seizure medications, and even antidepressants may help with severe pain. 

    Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS)

    NSAIDS are an effective type of pain medication that can help reduce inflammation and pain. These medications may be effective for arthritis, muscle sprains, and back injuries. 

    NSAIDS blocks enzymes in your body called cyclooxygenase (COX) that are released during some injuries. Although these drugs are generally safe, high amounts or long-term use may increase the risk of gastrointestinal and cardiovascular damage. 

    NSAID medications include:

    • ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
    • naproxen sodium (Aleve)
    • diclofenac sodium (Cambia)
    • meloxicam (Mobic)

    COX-2 Inhibitors

    This different type of NSAID, known as Celebrex (celecoxib), works differently than Aleve or Advil. Although Celebrex still blocks COX enzymes, it is safer for long-term use and does not have a high risk of stomach damage. 


    Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is an over-the-counter pain reliever and fever reducer. It is usually the first medication offered for mild to moderate pain. 

    Acetaminophen may help with osteoarthritis, back pain, headaches, and other types of pain. 

    It works similarly to NSAIDS (Aleve, Advil) but does not reduce inflammation. Although it is generally considered safe, high doses increase the risk of health effects like liver failure. 

    Anti-Seizure Medications

    Anti-seizure medications may effectively treat several types of nerve pain, including neuropathy and fibromyalgia. These medications decrease pain signals from nerve cells, which can help with both acute and chronic nerve pain. 

    Commonly prescribed nerve pain medications include Neurontin (gabapentin) and Lyrica (pregabalin)


    Certain types of antidepressants may be helpful in treating chronic pain because they target areas of the brain related to pain. Antidepressants may also improve depression symptoms caused by chronic or severe pain. 

    Unfortunately, most antidepressants take weeks before they have any effect. In the meantime, a healthcare provider may combine antidepressants with other types of non-opioid medications. 

    Nonpharmacologic Pain Treatment

    Some people who experience severe or chronic pain may benefit from a more holistic approach. These methods may help to reduce pain and improve well-being, especially when maintained long-term. 

    A wellness-based approach to pain management may include:

    • yoga
    • meditation
    • acupuncture
    • physical therapy
    • swimming
    • walking

    If you or a loved one would like information about addiction treatment options offered at Ark Behavioral Health, please contact us today. 

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on March 8, 2021
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