Chronic Pain and Addiction: How The Two Correlate

Managing Opioid Addiction

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Chronic pain is a health issue experienced by about 50 million adults living in the United States. It's a health concern that can lead to many different negative consequences, including mood fluctuations and depression. And if it’s not properly managed, chronic pain can also lead to addiction. In this article, we'll be shedding some light on the correlation between chronic pain and addiction.

woman having pain in foot

What is Chronic Pain?

Many of us have experienced pain in one way or the other. We've felt pain from a stubbed toe, burns, cuts, and even broken bones. The pain we experience from many of these injuries is defined as acute pain. Acute pain is often sudden and fades away within days or weeks. On the other hand, chronic pain can occur in any part of the body. It tends to last for months or years and has a negative impact on a person's life.

surgical team with tools

What Causes Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is caused by a wide range of health conditions from chronic fatigue syndrome to cancer, endometriosis, traumatic injury, and post-surgical pain. Also, aging and its associated conditions, such as joint pain and arthritis, can result in chronic pain. Chronic pain comes with a wide variety of symptoms, such as back, nerve, and head pain, joint pain, arthritis, and breathing difficulties. It has also been found to cause sleep irregularities, loss of appetite, reduction in energy levels, and more health conditions that can negatively impact a person's life and relationships.

doctor handing pills to patient

The Correlation Between Chronic Pain and Addiction

Unfortunately, many patients deal with more than just pain. Chronic pain often affects the daily activities of patients and can lead to social isolation, anxiety, and depression. These factors, as well as the pain, may result in patients fiddling with their dosage instructions, thereby setting the stage for addiction.

The fact that chronic pain and its accompanying conditions require multiple medications to treat doesn't help matters. For instance, a person suffering from fibromyalgia may experience bone pain, sensitivity, and tenderness while dealing with the symptoms of anxiety, fatigue, and depression.

To make matters worse, most of the medications used for the treatment of pain are highly addictive. Many of the opioids used in treating and suppressing chronic pain supply the brain with dopamine, which makes patients "feel good." Over time, these medications can lead to opioid-induced hyperalgesia, a condition where the medication that provides relief leads to more pain.

The pain receptors in the patient's body become less sensitive to the medication and more sensitive to chronic pain. With an increased tolerance to the medications, patients will need to take a larger dose to get relieved from the pain. This cycle can lead to a full-blown addiction.

woman that's feeling sick in bed

Signs That You’re Addicted to Your Chronic Pain Medication

Besides relieving pain, many opioids can make patients feel extremely relaxed and some can even provide a feeling that can be described as euphoria. This can lead to the patient becoming dependent on the medication, which can be otherwise described as an addiction.

If you stop taking your chronic pain medications and you feel any of the symptoms below, you may have become addicted.

  • Irritability

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Fever

  • Decreased heartbeat

  • Flu-like symptoms

  • Excessive yawning

  • Watery eyes

  • Excessive and constant sweating

  • Diarrhea

  • Goosebumps

  • Intense cravings

Fortunately, there are many different treatments for chronic pain that significantly minimize your chances of getting addicted. Some of these pain management treatments include physical therapy, drug detox, antidepressants, cognitive behavioral therapy, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, and more.