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The Relationship Between Chronic Pain and Substance Abuse

According to the Centers for Disease Control, chronic pain affects roughly twenty percent of the United States population. Chronic pain is part of many chronic health issues and injuries, but it is becoming a health condition. In fact, chronic pain and substance abuse have a close relationship. Pain and substance abuse look in the same direction towards drugs. Medications designed to control pain do their job but are only for short-term use. However, misusing pain prescriptions and long-term use create another health problem, substance use disorders.  

What is Chronic Pain?

The definition of chronic pain is persistent pain that endures for twelve weeks or more. Chronic pain affects people in different ways, decreasing mobility, causing mood changes, mental health issues, and changes to lifestyle factors such as eating and sleeping. The causes of chronic pain are injuries and health conditions. In addition, pain and substance abuse connect through the medications used to relieve pain. 

Why is chronic pain so debilitating for so many? Chronic pain interferes with the ability to carry out a normal lifestyle. Unintentional addiction occurs when patients take the prescribed dosage over a long term. The body builds a tolerance to the drug, and more and more is needed to relieve pain. In fact, tolerance is where pain and substance abuse become an additional problem for the user.  

Car accidents, surgeries, and other traumas can result in chronic pain and other issues through the following:

  • Back and other joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Tingling pain and nerve pain
  • Arthritis pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Insomnia
  • Depression and anxiety

Health conditions with chronic pain are long-term and very challenging to prescribe medications to relieve.

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Bone pain
  • Endometriosis
  • Cancer
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Neuralgias
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Obesity

The Relationship between Chronic Pain and Addiction

The medical profession uses pain medication to treat chronic pain as a first option. While some cases of addiction through tolerance are unintentional, other chronic pain patients misuse their drugs. Taking more than the dosage is dangerous, increases tolerance, and usually ends in addiction. Pain and substance abuse can be identified with the following signs and symptoms of addiction.

  • Noticeable changes in energy levels, personality, and mood regulation
  • Changes in lifestyle, apparent neglect of responsibilities
  • Withdrawing from family and friends, isolating behaviors
  • Lack of self-care
  • Needing more and more medication to produce the same relief
  • Doctor shopping to get more medications

These signs and symptoms of chronic pain and substance abuse reduce the quality of life. In fact, those becoming addicted through regular use of their prescriptions are the most vulnerable population. Genetics and prior addictions are the only factors found to be shared by these patients. Unfortunately, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that eighty percent of heroin addicts first became addicted through the misuse of opioids. 

The overreliance on opioids for chronic pain in the U.S. is a problem. However, the complexity of managing opioid medications is beyond the scope of the medical practice. As a result, pain management centers are becoming valuable in incorporating therapeutic alternatives to just prescribing opioids. In addition, chronic pain and substance abuse contribute to the emotional welfare of those affected by confusing the brain’s circuitry involved with stress and reward. 

Chronic Pain and Mental Illness

Not only is there a relationship between chronic pain and substance abuse, but there is also a psychological aspect to pain. Those experiencing chronic pain have an increased risk of developing mood, anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. In addition, the symptoms of mental illness can worsen the chronic pain dilemma. Stress increases inflammation and muscle tension, and this adds to the pain. 

Chronic pain and mental illness are a vicious cycle of symptoms acting on the pain and the pain acting on the symptoms. In fact, researchers suggest that up to 85 percent of people with chronic pain have depression as well. Add pain and substance abuse to the mix, and the cycle widens. What’s more, these cycles consistently decrease the quality of life. 

Medications Used for Treating Chronic Pain

Physicians typically prescribe opioid medications for chronic pain. While there is a direct relationship between chronic pain and substance abuse, doctors continue to prescribe opioids even though they are not consistent for pain relief. Also, close attention to strict prescribing guidelines has not proven effective in controlling the misuse of these drugs. The following opioids are most commonly prescribed to treat chronic pain.

  • Morphine: moderate to severe pain
  • Oxycodone: moderate to severe pain
  • Fentanyl: severe pain

Non-opioid pain medications are also a choice in the treatment of chronic pain. While not as strong as opioids, combined with other therapies can manage pain while staying sober and eliminating the connection between pain and substance abuse. With these drugs, holistic therapies such as acupuncture, meditation, breathing exercises, and massage could be effective.

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs, including ibuprofen and naproxen
  • Acetaminophen
  • Beta-blockers
  • Anticonvulsant drugs
  • Antidepressants

Find Help for your Chronic Pain and Substance Abuse in Tennessee

Tennessee Valley Recovery has programs for those experiencing chronic pain and who have developed a substance abuse disorder. We understand the cycles between chronic pain, misuse of drugs, and mental illness. Our medically monitored detox programs can assist with the addiction and allow for the treatment of your remaining physical and mental health issues. Contact us today.