Chronic Pain and Addiction

Roughly 1.5 billion people suffer with chronic pain globally. Out of these findings, 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain.

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What Is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is “pain lasting 12 weeks or more”, usually after an injury or procedure. For example, someone with chronic pain may feel a pinching sensation in certain parts of the body, and can also experience:

  • Headaches
  • Back pain
  • Cancer pain
  • Tingling
  • Nerve pain (Fibromyalgia)
  • Joint pain
  • Arthritis
  • Insomnia
  • Depression/anxiety
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Post-trauma pain

Post-trauma pain includes pain from car accidents, surgical procedural injuries, and other physical traumas, rather than injuries stemming from emotional or mental trauma.

Chronic Pain And Health Conditions

Chronic pain often calls for several medications, some with side effects that can be disruptive to daily activities. For example, conditions like fibromyalgia that causes chronic fatigue, tenderness, and bone pain not only cause chronic pain, but can be emotionally frustrating to deal with. Additionally, chronic pain can be caused by health factors like:

  • Endometriosis or Uterine Fibroids
  • Cancer
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Fibroids
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Intestinal Cystitis

Other traits of chronic pain include an inability to move around, muscle tension, changes in appetite and emotional frustrations due to ongoing pain. Lastly, women, tobacco smokers, obese people, and individuals who have had an injury are most at-risk for battling chronic pain.

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Chronic Pain Treatment And Medications

Typically, chronic pain is treated with physical therapy, medications and occupational therapy. In the case of physical therapy, patients that need help with walking, or help with completing daily tasks get hands-on help. In other cases, patients may use medications and be urged to practice healthy lifestyle changes that improve posture, stress levels, and energy.

Medications that are mostly commonly associated with chronic pain relief include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Opioids
  • Steroids (Prednisone)
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Antidepressants

If Advil is not strong enough to combat chronic pain, some patients may need an anti-inflammatory or muscle relaxers. Muscle relaxers can be addictive for someone people in some cases. Antidepressants are used to help patients battling depression but can produce withdrawal symptoms once patients discontinue use. Chronic pain and addiction is a growing issue around the world.

2014 saw 245 million prescriptions for opioid pain relievers. In that same year, there was a reported 2.5 million opioid-related addictions impacting adults.

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Chronic Pain And Opioid Abuse

Opioids are highly addictive and can be used as a last resort and can produce both dependences and withdrawal symptoms. Similar to antidepressants, withdrawing from prescription or synthetic opioids can create uncomfortable side effects that can push someone back into a cycle of dependence. Due to the addictive nature of specific substances, patients are required to discuss the meds they take with a doctor.

The opioid epidemic often stems from patients who have had chronic pain and other injuries transitioning from prescription meds to street drugs. This has resulted in opioid abuse and chronic pain having a complicated relationship. A study noted, “chronic pain not caused by cancer is among the most prevalent and debilitating medical conditions.” Opioid analgesics are some of the most commonly prescribed medications despite them being addictive. In 2014, “Americans filled 245 million prescriptions for opioid pain relievers.” In that same year, there was a reported 2.5 million opioid-related addictions impacting adults.

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Chronic Pain Management And Opioid Abuse

Opioids are prescribed for chronic pain as opioids bind to the opioid receptors in the brain, creating euphoria and pleasure throughout the body. This significantly reduces pain, but can enable someone to develop a tolerance, or worse, a dependence. Due to the risk of a chronic pain patient developing an opioid use disorder, it is important to know how to manage pain medication and be alert for possible signs of abuse.

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Opioid Tolerance, Dependence and Abuse

When someone takes a prescription opioid like Hydrocodone or Oxycodone for pain, he or she not only feels relief, but feels extreme relaxation and even joy. Once the patient begins to heal, he or she may crave those feelings post-use. If the patient has taken prescription opioids for months or years, it can be easy to see how the body has become accustomed to having those chemicals in the system.

A tolerance often emerges once someone has taken a substance for some time and needs a higher dose to feel its effects. A dependence is when someone needs a particular substance to feel “normal”, especially if he or she tapers use. He or she could experience irritability, depression, sweating, nausea, guilt, secrecy, shame, fatal and non-fatal overdoses amongst other symptoms.

Lastly, abuse occurs when someone is mentally and/or emotionally dependent on a substance to feel normal. This means the individual is taking opioids to emotionally “feel good” or feel excitement, rather than taking it for its medical use. To take it a step further, he or she acts unusual or unlike themselves if they do not have the drug.

Opioid Withdrawal

Once someone stops taking opioids, he or she can experience withdrawal symptoms. Typically, withdrawal signals a dependence and abuse with the following symptoms:

  • Intense cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Fever
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Goosebumps
  • Diarrhea

In some cases, patients can benefit from holistic care like acupuncture and yoga with other medications to reduce the dependence on opioids.

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Battling chronic pain and addiction can bring about more pain as time progresses. Being proactive about an opioid use disorder can reduce complications in the future. If you are struggling with chronic pain and are addicted to opioids, don’t hesitate to get the help you’re entitled to. Alternatively, if your loved one suffers the same circumstance, he or she can get help. Contact a dedicated treatment provider and explore treatment options today.

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