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The Relationship Between Chronic Pain and Addiction

A woman experiencing chronic pain and substance abuse.

Anyone suffering from chronic pain should know the dangerous relationship between chronic pain and addiction. Many people begin by taking over-the-counter medications to manage pain, only for it to become persistent and progressively worse. As a result, some may turn to prescription opiate painkillers in an attempt to cope with the pain. This can lead to damaging consequences such as addiction which can be even more serious than the initial problem. At Retreat of Broward, our team is dedicated to helping those who suffer from addiction related to chronic pain.

What is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain persists beyond the expected healing time of an injury or illness, usually lasting for more than three months. It can be caused by various medical conditions, such as nerve damage, musculoskeletal injuries, inflammation, and other illnesses. The most common types of chronic pain include headaches and backaches. These pains range from a dull ache to an intense and debilitating burning sensation. 

Chronic pain significantly impacts the quality of life for those who suffer from it, often leading to fatigue, depression, sleep deprivation, reduced mobility, and difficulty concentrating. Unfortunately, chronic pain sometimes leads to addiction when people rely on opioids or other drugs to manage pain. Opioids are powerful drugs that provide relief in the short term. However, they also have serious side effects such as drowsiness, constipation, and slowed breathing. They also increase the risk of overdose and death. 

As a result, those struggling with chronic pain and addiction should explore non-medicinal treatment options alongside traditional therapies to reduce their dependence on opioids while still managing their condition effectively. For example, non-medicinal treatments include physical therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and biofeedback. These therapies help reduce the intensity and frequency of pain episodes, as well as better coping strategies for managing chronic pain long term. 

Some signs of addiction include: 

  • An intense craving for opioids or other drugs 
  • Taking more than prescribed
  • Preoccupation trying to obtain the drugs, such as doctor shopping
  • Difficulty reducing or stopping drug use even when desired 
  • Significant changes in behavior such as isolation from family and friends 

If someone recognizes any of these symptoms in themselves or a loved one, speak with a medical professional immediately about treatment options that help manage chronic pain without exacerbating existing addictions.

Treating Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is typically treated with a combination of therapies, including medication, physical therapy, psychological counseling, relaxation techniques, and lifestyle modifications. Medication used to treat chronic pain include over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen and prescription medications like antidepressants or opioids. 

Physical therapy helps improve posture and range of motion. While psychological counseling provides skills on how to cope with chronic pain. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises and guided imagery help reduce stress levels associated with chronic pain. Finally, lifestyle modifications like strengthening core muscles and maintaining a healthy weight reduce the impact of chronic pain on an individual’s life. 

In some cases of chronic pain where addiction is present due to long-term opioid use for managing pain symptoms, alternative treatments should be considered. Additionally, medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help reduce opioid use and help manage pain symptoms without the risk of addiction. 

Finally, it is important to note that there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to treating chronic pain. It takes time for a person to find the combination of treatments that works best for them. It is also important to remember that a person’s perception of their pain should be respected and taken into account when making treatment decisions. A medical professional can help guide a person through the process of finding an effective strategy for managing chronic pain.

Chronic Pain and Addiction

Chronic pain and addiction are closely intertwined, with the two often compounding the severity of the other. People suffering from chronic pain are more likely to develop substance use disorder, while people struggling with addiction may be more prone to developing chronic pain due to their existing lifestyle choices. The relationship between chronic pain and opioid addiction is complex and requires careful consideration of prevention and treatment. 

When it comes to risk factors for addiction, those living with chronic pain often have higher rates of addiction than those without. This could be due to several reasons, including self-medication in an attempt to relieve the pain or simply having increased exposure due to greater access to prescription medications. 

Other risk factors for addiction include: 

  • Mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder
  • Preexisting trauma
  • Environmental stressors 
  • Genetics
  • Socioeconomic status

Chronic Pain and Alcohol

Since ancient times, alcohol has been used as an effective analgesic to reduce pain in both humans and animals. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), research has shown that approximately 28% of people who suffer from chronic pain turn to alcohol as a way to relieve their suffering. Despite its proven efficacy, the use of alcohol to manage pain carries with it many risks and potential health consequences.

  • Mixing alcohol and certain pain medications can be dangerous. For instance: 
  • Consuming alcohol with acetaminophen can lead to acute liver failure
  • Mixing alcohol with aspirin increases the risk of gastric bleeding 
  • Consuming alcohol while taking opiates increase its sedative effects, which elevates the risk of misuse and overdose. 

Tolerance to alcohol’s analgesic effects develops over time, so more will need to be consumed to achieve the same level of relief. Increasing intake leads to the development of alcohol dependence. Furthermore, alcohol withdrawal increases pain sensitivity and often motivates some people to continue drinking or increase their intake to reverse this effect. Over time, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a painful small-fiber peripheral neuropathy, the most common neurologic complication associated with alcohol use disorder. 

In conclusion, while alcohol reduces chronic pain, it carries with it significant risks and should be used cautiously or avoided altogether. For those who are struggling with chronic pain and addiction, alternative methods to managing pain should be explored, as the risk of relapse is too great when alcohol or other substances are used. 

Pain Management for Recovering Addicts

Pain management is an important part of recovery for people struggling with addiction. For individuals dealing with both chronic pain and addiction, there are a few strategies that can be used: 

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), which focuses on changing thought patterns and behaviors related to the use of substances
  • Physical therapy treatments such as massage therapy, acupuncture, yoga, and tai chi
  • Individual therapy
  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction 
  • Medication management
  • Healthy lifestyle changes such as exercise and nutrition
  • Support groups
  • Alternative treatment methods like medical cannabis
  • Holistic therapies like Reiki or guided meditation

Pain management for recovering addicts must take a comprehensive approach toward treatment that incorporates all aspects mentioned above. While no one solution works for everyone, building awareness around this complex relationship can help prevent relapse. Additionally, ensuring individuals get the care they need to achieve long-term recovery and manage their pain effectively.

The goal is to provide relief and comfort while minimizing risks associated with long-term opioid use, such as addiction and relapse. Ideally, the right combination of therapies should be tailored to each individual to meet their unique needs and preferences. Thus, enabling them to find effective strategies for managing their chronic pain over time. With the right approach, individuals living with chronic pain can improve their quality of life and achieve successful treatment outcomes.

Finding Help for Chronic Pain and Addiction in South Florida

At the Retreat of Broward, we understand the complex relationship between chronic pain and addiction. Our compassionate staff is available to help clients navigate this life-changing recovery journey. We provide each client with personalized treatment from safe and comfortable detox to arranging aftercare services.  

Contact us today to learn more about our approach to chronic pain and addiction.

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