Chronic Pain and Addiction

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By: Renaissance Recovery

Medically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated: 7/1/2021

An image of a person struggling with Chronic Pain and Addiction

Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

When chronic pain and addiction co-occur, finding the right treatment can be complex and challenging.

Many people need different medications to address the various components of chronic pain. Someone with RA (rheumatoid arthritis), for instance, may experience joint pain, joint stiffness, fatigues, weakness, depression, and anxiety.

To compound the issue, many medications used to treat chronic pain have a strong potential for abuse and addiction.

Chronic Pain and Opioid Addiction

Any persistent pain that persists for three months or more is classified as chronic pain. Long-lasting pain often occurs after a surgical procedure or an injury.

According to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), over 50 million people in the United States suffer from chronic pain. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Tingling
  • Headaches
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Joint pain
  • Nerve pain
  • Back pain
  • Arthritis
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Post-trauma pain

Chronic pain can be triggered by many factors, such as:

  • Aging
  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Endometriosis
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Cancer
  • Dementia
  • Traumatic injury
  • Post-surgical pain

Unfortunately for most patients dealing with chronic pain, physical pain is disruptive to daily functioning, often leading to social isolation, anxiety, and depression. This unsavory physical and emotional cocktail can prompt many people with chronic pain to self-medicate symptoms using addictive substances, whether alcohol, illicit drugs, or prescription painkillers. This might deliver some fleeting relief, but will worsen symptoms over time while increasing the risk of addiction developing.

Chronic pain and addiction are further linked due to the routine prescription of opioid painkillers to address chronic pain. The past two decades has seen an opioid epidemic ravage the U.S. as millions of people suffering from chronic pain developed addiction to opioid painkillers.

Although the opioid dispensing rate in the U.S. declined significantly from 2012 to 2020, physicians still dispensed over 142,000 opioid prescriptions in 2020. Additionally, data from NSDUH 2020 shows that 2.7 million adults had opioid use disorder in 2020 (the clinical descriptor for opioid addiction).

Opioids are highly effective for relieving pain but are also highly addictive. The mechanism of action of this medication reduces the number of pain signals sent from the body to the brain. At the same time, opioids influence the body’s response to pain.

Although pain relief is the core purpose of opioids, they also deliver euphoric, rewarding effects. Resultantly, opioids are classified as schedule II substances under the CSA (Controlled Substances Act).

Taking opioids long-term caused tolerance to build quite rapidly. This means you will need more painkillers or more frequent dosages to generate the same effects. The pain receptors in your body become more sensitive over time and you become less sensitive to the effects of opioids.

Tolerance can lead to physical dependence forming. By this stage, you will require opioids just to feel normal. If you are dependent on opioids, adverse withdrawal symptoms will present when you discontinue use.

When opioid use disorder develops, this is a chronic and relapsing condition characterized by the compulsive use of opioids regardless of negative outcomes. Opioid addiction causes changes to the brain chemistry governing mood regulation and emotion.

Chronic pain and opiate addiction is an interlinked problem. Opioids are from the same family as opiates like heroin. NIH (National Institutes of Health) report that 80% of U.S. citizens who use heroin previously abused prescription opioids. Fortunately, the same data shows that only 4% of those prescribed opioid painkillers subsequently use heroin. Some of these people find opioid painkillers no longer deliver the pain relief required and resort to using heroin. Others unable to refill prescriptions, or unable to afford ongoing opioid prescriptions turn to illicit heroin, deadly and illegal, but also much cheaper than opioids.

An image of a man with Chronic Pain and Addiction

How to Deal with Chronic Pain and Addiction

Chronic pain and addiction are both aggravating conditions.

First, consider the many potential chronic pain interventions that will not expose you to the risk of addiction. These include:

  • Antidepressants to address emotional pain: SNRIs (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) can be prescribed for the treatment of musculoskeletal pain and chronic fibromyalgia in addition to depression.
  • NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications): Prescription NSAIDs are sometimes used for the treatment of chronic pain, either in isolation or together with opioids.
  • Complementary therapies: Holistic therapies like tai chi, yoga, meditation, and acupuncture might alleviate some forms of chronic pain.
  • CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy): CBT is a form of psychotherapy commonly used to treat addiction and mental health issues.
  • Medical management: Some people with chronic pain find relief from massage, chiropractic work, and physical therapy.

Once you have tackled the issue of chronic pain, you should consider engaging with outpatient treatment for addiction at a drug rehab center.

Chronic Pain and Addiction Rehab

Before engaging with treatment for opioid addiction, you must first detox and purge your system of toxins. A supervised medical detox provides the safest and most comfortable pathway to ongoing recovery. Medications can streamline the intensity of the withdrawal process, and you will have clinical and emotional care available around the clock.

Detox addresses the physical component of opioid addiction and allows you to unpack the psychological aspect of opioid use disorder through ongoing treatment.

Many people addicted to opioid find MAT (medication-assisted treatment) is effective beyond detox. Several FDA-approved medications can reduce the severity of cravings and withdrawal symptoms. MAT can improve treatment retention and minimize the chance of relapse.

MAT is always delivered alongside behavioral interventions like counseling and psychotherapy.

Rehab for opioid addiction also often involves holistic therapies, especially valuable for those with co-occurring chronic pain.

If you have been unable to find the right chronic pain and addiction treatment centers for your needs, we can help you here at Renaissance Recovery.

Substance Abuse Treatment at Renaissance Recovery

At Renaissance, we provide a variety of personalized, gender-specific treatment programs for both alcoholism (alcohol use disorder) and drug addiction (substance use disorder).

If you have a co-occurring mental health condition or physical health condition like chronic pain, our dual diagnosis treatment programs are designed to address multiple conditions simultaneously with coordinated and integrated treatment.

At Renaissance Recovery, take advantage of outpatient therapy for an affordable but effective route to recovery. If you require more structured treatment than a traditional outpatient program delivers, we also offer more intensive programming. Engage with our IOP (intensive outpatient program) or PHP (partial hospitalization program) for the most rigorous addiction treatment you will find outside of residential rehab.

All substance abuse treatment programs utilize an individualized array of EBTs (evidence-based treatments), including:

  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Group counseling
  • Individual counseling
  • Psychotherapy (CBT or DBT)
  • Family therapy
  • Holistic therapies

Once you complete your treatment program at Renaissance, you will either step down to a less intensive level of care or move right back into sober living.

Move beyond a life complicated by chronic pain and addiction by calling 866.330.9449 right now for immediate assistance.

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Diana is an addiction expert and licensed marriage and family therapist who has been in the field of mental health for over 10 years.

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country