Far too many addictions develop as a way to cope with pain. Pain management often means abuse of opiate prescriptions, which can rapidly transform into an addiction. For those with chronic pain, addiction treatment has to address how to manage pain moving forward. Without doing so, many individuals will relapse.
How Pain Becomes Addiction
One of the most important things to discuss is how pain can become addiction. All too often, drug addiction is thought of as a choice or a moral defect. In reality, addiction can impact anyone. The illness of addiction is actually more likely for those dealing with long-term pain.
Dealing with chronic or even acute pain often means getting a prescription for a painkiller. While there are many different pain medication options available, a large number of the most effective will contain opioids. This can include things like hydrocodone, codeine or morphine.
Short-term use of these opioid painkillers can certainly reduce and manage pain. For acute pain, such as after a surgery or a car accident, they may be necessary for patients. Over an extended period of time, however, they can absolutely lead to complications.
Since opiates are addictive, those who rely on opioid prescriptions to manage pain are very likely to become addicted. There is a misconception that if a physician prescribes an opioid drug, the subsequent development of an addiction isn’t problematic. In reality, that could not be further from the truth.
After the addiction is formed, patients may also see their tolerance increase. This leads to an increased need for the drug, and sometimes requires increasingly larger doses.
In addition, physicians may eventually cut off prescriptions or recommend alternatives. When those addicted to opiates no longer have a legitimate medical supply, they have to turn to new means of procuring their preferred prescription drugs.
Patients might travel to multiple pain clinics to receive prescriptions to keep up with their addiction. They might lie or steal just to add to their supply. Because prescription painkillers can be expensive when not covered through insurance, some individuals may even turn to cheaper opioid alternatives, such as heroin.
The idea that a typically law-abiding person in pain might become a heroin addict is clearly not as far-fetched as some might believe. Addiction is a serious illness, and it can change behavior and personality in addition to physical and mental health.
Common Causes of Chronic Pain
Pain can come in many forms. Typically, it is not acute pain that is the primary concern of those dealing with pain and during recovery. Instead, it is those cases of chronic pain, where long-term discomfort leads people to try any means possible for relief.
An example of chronic pain is lingering injuries. For example, a person who injured themselves while running or playing football in college might still get twinges of pain decades later. This lingering pain is incredibly frustrating because generally, there is no quick fix. Worse still, there may be pain because the injury wasn’t properly treated in the past.
Other examples of chronic pain include fibromyalgia and arthritis, two things that make everyday activities uncomfortable and challenging. These diagnoses often impact the entire body, and they can be difficult to face with a positive attitude.
Things like chronic migraines can also lead to a reliance on pain medication. Whatever the cause of the chronic pain, it is key that patients don’t think opioid medication is the only option available. Chronic pain has many causes, but it also has many solutions beyond just opioid prescription drugs.
Tackling the Psychological Side of Pain
Pain is not a primarily physical condition, although many people might assume that. The level of pain that people report also has to do with how they feel and process that pain. For example, someone with a chronic injury might be frustrated and depressed about that fact, leading to stronger feelings of pain.
The psychological side of pain is no less real or tangible than any other pain. However, it does reveal that painkillers in and of themselves aren’t always the only solution. Certain therapies, including ACT, CBT and DBT can also have a positive impact on the level of pain felt by patients.
ACT is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. This therapeutic approach to pain management seeks to work with acceptance to try and reframe a healthier, more positive mindset. Mindfulness strategies are a key element of ACT.
CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is an approach used widely for those struggling with addiction. It does double duty by also helping patients better address their pain. CBT is rooted in the present and the primary objective is to develop skills and strategies to solve current problems. It also aims to change behaviors that are hindering, rather than helping, psychological states.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT, works to regulate emotions. This helps people be more even when assessing pain, which can in turn reduce the actual pain level felt. It also works to increase mindfulness and develop healthy habits that are beneficial to patients.
Pain Management in Recovery
Many individuals who are addicted to pain medications have very real concerns that in recovery, their chronic pain will manifest itself and become overwhelming. This is a valid concern, but it is important to realize that medical professionals are aware of this and there are options.
To start, alternative painkillers can be administered if and when necessary. These can include, but are not limited to, things like acetaminophen or anti-inflammatory drugs, neither of which are opioid narcotics.
In addition, pain management can include mental health treatment, which may successfully help patients feel more positive about their condition. This can be instrumental in finding pleasure, which releases endorphins in the body. Finally, approaching exercise to increase circulation may be key in ongoing pain management.
Pain management and addiction treatment are two things that often go hand in hand. By understanding how they are linked, it is easier to know how to treat both conditions for maximum health as well as pain-free comfort and happiness.