There is a Way Out

Chronic Pain picResearch has shown that individuals being treated for addiction are much more likely to suffer severe, chronic pain than the general population (Rosenblum A. JAMA 2003).  There are many reasons why this may be. Addiction is a "chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.."  and this same brain circuitry responsible for addiction interacts with and alters how the brain processes pain signals.  For this, and for many other reasons, addiction complicates the treatment of pain and pain complicates the treatment of addiction.

No single treatment is likely to "cure" chronic pain, whether it be medication, surgery, injections, physical therapy, counseling, or alternative/complementary approaches, but pain can be managed. When complicated by addiction, pain management  requires comprehensive, integrated approaches that address the many biological, psychological, and environment factors that increase pain and trigger addiction cravings.

A strictly medical approach to pain may reinforce the mistaken belief that chronic pain is primarily a biological disorder that can be "fixed" by doctors and may over-emphasize medications and procedures. Individuals suffering from chronic pain may be de-conditioned and require specialized physical therapy in order to restore function. They may be discouraged, anxious, depressed or "stressed"-- conditions that respond well to specialized pain psychotherapy but not to routine "talk therapy."

Addiction treatment programs often fail to address pain, thus increasing the risk of relapse.

When both addiction and pain are present, good care requires integration of evidence-based treatment for both of these two disorders.

There are a few specialized programs that treat both chronic pain and addiction that report excellent outcome results. Unfortunately, most people in need are unable to participate in these formal pain programs, but they can create their own treatment plan by combining addiction treatment with good medical treatment and self-care.