In Less Pain, Fewer Pills, Dr. Beth Darnall offers a low-risk and effective way to gain control over pain without having to rely on dangerously addictive prescription drugs. The approach is based on the fact that “pain is in the brain,” as the author, a pain expert and Stanford University professor, writes.
Dr. Darnall has not only treated countless patients, she’s also worked through her own bouts of chronic pain. Here she not only provides a alternative way to manage pain, she also takes the pharmaceutical industry to task for its cynical grab for profits. By convincing the medical profession to hand out highly addictive opiates like candy whenever someone complains of chronic pain, Big Pharma contributes to an epidemic of overdoses — not only from prescribed medications, but also from street heroin. When an opiate prescription runs out, addicts may turn to dope, turning an already tragic situation into a worse one.
Less Pain, Fewer Pills explains pains connection to both mind and body in empathetic, understandable language that is based on groundbreaking research. She cites phantom limb syndrome as a key indication of pain’s true source. That people would experience severe pain in limbs they no longer even have is solid evidence that pain is centered in the brain. Even after surgery, then, we can manage pain by using stress reduction techniques like meditation, diaphragmatic breathing, and cognitive behavior therapy. This psychological approach may not be as well-known as hypnosis or acupuncture, but as Dr. Darnall points out, it’s yet another instance in which a non-traditional method truly works.
Dr. Darnall is thoughtful and pragmatic, encouraging and supportive: she has made a career out of helping countless patients mitigate their own pain. She makes it clear that she genuinely believes that those who suffer from pain and are dependent on painkillers can indeed successfully wean themselves from these prescriptions. Rather than trying to go cold turkey, she outlines a process of gently and gradually tapering off. It’s an approach that may be difficult, but done slowly and carefully, it reduces those crippling symptoms of withdrawal that often railroad our best attempts.
One of the most effective ways to reduce pain has to do with Dr. Darnall’s research on “pain catastrophizing.” As she writes, one of the worst parts of pain is connected to our anticipation of it: as we expect pain, we trigger a negative cascade of thoughts and emotions that actually make it worse. By responding to pain by pushing through it (as top athletes do) or refusing to give voice to the anxiety that the onset of pain can cause, we can actually reduce our own pain response. The book includes fascinating research done with brain imaging that shows how emotional processing is overactive in people with chronic pain. The increased activity actually intensifies how we experience pain.
For patients being handed an opiate prescription to manage their pain, Less Pain, Fewer Pills is a welcome resource. It’s a reassuring tool for those trying to help opiate abusers. Certainly pain is hard to deal with, but addiction to opiates can be even worse. In lieu of a staging an intervention or trying to pressure a loved one to go into treatment, handing them this book may be the non-intrusive, compassionate alternative that makes all the difference.
Find out more about Beth Darnall at www.bethdarnall.com.