Chronic Pain and Addiction

Estimated reading time: 32 minute(s)

Everyone experiences pain from time to time, some in the form of a burn or cut, while others due to a broken toe or ankle. This acute pain suddenly flares up and typically settles within days or weeks. Long-term pain, also known as chronic pain, is different from this acute pain as it may persist for months or years, negatively affecting all aspects of an individual’s life, such as appetite, sleep, mobility, relationships, and everyday energy levels.

Unfortunately, more than fifty million American citizens continue to suffer from chronic pain, according to the latest statistics by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This number signifies approximately 20% of the population, most of which get tired of the constant pain and resort to dangerous painkillers like opioids. While these pain relief measures may provide relief, they also bring on many dangers in the long run, such as the risk of addiction. Surveys suggest that millions of people who get opioid prescriptions for legit chronic pain issues develop an addiction. The issue seems to be worsening every year.

If you or someone you know has been struggling with chronic pain and is at risk of developing a painkiller addiction secondary to it, it is crucial to learn more about the two issues and the association that exists. It would also be worth considering raising awareness about how to control these issues if they have already developed to return to a healthy, addiction-free life.

Digging Up The Source: What Causes Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain indicates any type of pain that persists for at least 3 months without any breaks. This type of pain can range from mild to moderate in severity and may lead to any of the following symptoms:

  • Sinus pain
  • Neck pain
  • Mood swings
  • Pelvic pain
  • Backaches
  • Pain after an injury
  • Shoulder pain
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Weakened immune system
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Inability to participate in many activities

The cause of chronic pain may not always be clear, but experts believe that it normally happens when a certain medical condition ends up causing imbalances in the central nervous system. Consequently, the body becomes more sensitive to pain, experiencing certain sensations that last longer or feel more painful than normal. Chronic pain may occur due to a serious infection, surgical incision, or medical disease.

Following are some examples of the conditions that may trigger chronic or long-term pain in people:


Headaches can affect people from time to time, and in most cases, they are an occasional nuisance. Migraines are a type of headache that continues to recur, lasting a few hours to a few days, several times a week.

Lower back pain

Lower back pain continues to affect millions of people worldwide, and unfortunately, it may not always have a cause. Long-term muscle or joint strain remains the commonest cause of this problem and may cause discomfort lasting more than 12 weeks in some people.


This disease primarily targets and affects the joints, leading to symptoms such as a low range of motion, redness, and swelling. The two most common types of this issue include rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.


Cancer can not only be highly destructive for the body but equally painful. Many people have to take regular opioids to fight the associated pain.


This condition involves experiencing musculoskeletal pain throughout the body due to heightened pain sensations. The chronic pain that patients with fibromyalgia experience stem from bad past experiences, such as child abuse.


This condition is due to a viral infection that leads to itchy blisters and painful rashes on the body. The virus responsible for shingles is the same as the one causing chickenpox. People who have acquired a critical injury or those under stress are especially at risk of catching it.

People experiencing any pain that fails to resolve in due time and lasts longer than expected must immediately seek professional advice from a doctor.

Addiction and Chronic Pain: Common Painkillers with Addiction Potential

Most painkillers available on the market are prescription-only, meaning they are highly potent and likely to deliver the benefits they promise. However, only 58 percent of people struggling with chronic pain truly achieve any relief from them. The rest continue to abuse them to the point that they develop an addiction. Following are some of the most common medications prescribed for pain with a very high potential for addiction:


Codeine is beneficial for managing mild to moderate pain. It comes in the form of oral tablets and syrups and is also available as a part of cough syrups. Some common side effects of this pain relief medication include lightheadedness and constipation.


Morphine helps with both acute and chronic pain with severe intensity, such as those related to heart attacks or labor pains.


Clinics often prescribe methadone to recover from an underlying opioid addiction, as it can help people deal with moderate to severe pain.


Oxycodone is used to manage moderate to severe pain. It often co-exists with acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naloxone, and aspirin.


This fairly potent opioid medication helps manage both acute and chronic pain in addition to acting as a cough suppressant. It is mixed with acetaminophen from Vicodin, a common pain relief drug.


Fentanyl is one of the most widely used synthetic opioid pain relief medications to treat severe pain, such as cancer pain. It is also one of the strongest opioid painkiller medications currently on the market, with a high addiction potential.

Painkiller Addiction and Chronic Pain Management at a Professional Rehab

Pain management and addiction go hand in hand for many people struggling with chronic pain for a long time. Fortunately, there are various professional rehabs that acknowledge this close connection and have adequate resources and experts to get rid of both problems simultaneously, safely, and effectively. When an individual enters one of these rehabs, they typically undergo an initial assessment which helps the staff members understand the nature and severity of their underlying problems. Depending on these assessment results and other personal circumstances, most people begin their recovery journey with a medical detox.

As soon as a person enters the detox process, they begin cleansing their bodies of all harmful toxins from pain addiction management that they have been taking for a long time. Detox is a safe way for these individuals to stop using all painkillers while remaining under the constant supervision of a medical professional to ensure their safety. A detox program generally lasts 7 to 10 days, depending on individual response and recovery rate. Remember that the end of a detox program does not mark the end of treatment. Therapy and aftercare programs soon follow, helping patients mitigate their physical dependency on painkillers and find better and healthier ways to deal with chronic pain.

Following are some types of therapy a rehab may offer to help people with chronic pain and addiction treatment:

  • Individual therapy: It involves spending time with a therapist or counselor in a one-to-one setting and discovering why you acquired an addiction to painkillers in the first place. A therapist can also help you how to cope with chronic pain more healthily without developing dependence.  
  • Group therapy: Group therapy places patients with other people having similar struggles with painkiller addiction and chronic pain. A counselor usually leads these sessions and provides each member to discuss their struggles and the impacts of chronic pain and addiction on their lives.
  • Holistic medicine: Alternative or holistic medicine can be a good way of pain management for recovering addicts. It uses techniques like yoga, journaling, mindfulness, and nutritional therapy to balance the mind, body, and spirit.

In many cases, especially where a patient is in unbearable pain, a specialist may consider switching them to the lesser-addictive and comparatively safer painkiller, such as the following:

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

People have been using NSAIDs for a long time to manage acute pain. Taking them in prescription strengths may also help them manage long-term pain. Some common forms of NSAIDs for chronic pain management with minimal risk of addiction include celecoxib, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen.

Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

These medications were originally discovered to help people fight off depressive episodes. However, they can also benefit those with chronic musculoskeletal pain and fibromyalgia. Some examples of SNRI medications include duloxetine and venlafaxine.


Anticonvulsants, such as pregabalin and gabapentin, are generally used to manage epilepsy. However, they can also help with pain management by changing how the pain signals move throughout the body.

Dealing with Chronic Pain and Substance Abuse Recovery

Many people recovering from painkiller addiction may falsely believe there is no safe way to keep their underlying chronic pain minimal. However, the following tips can help make a difference:

Be regular in attending counseling sessions

These therapy sessions teach clients new life skills in addition to introducing them to new coping mechanisms for chronic pain management while balancing the underlying emotions.

Eat balanced meals

Healthy, nutritious meals can do wonders for mental and physical health and well-being. Try eating foods with low saturated fats and sugars, high nutrient content, and protein.

Acquire good problem-solving skills

Acquiring new problem-solving skills can help people grow and learn newer, healthier, and more effective ways to solve all issues at hand without resorting to negative pathways.

Look for a support group

A good support group can make a tremendous difference in painkiller addiction recovery in people with chronic pain. An example of these groups includes Narcotics Anonymous, which helps people with similar issues come together, support each other, and recover.


Who is at risk of developing an addiction to alcohol and chronic pain management?

It is true that many people may continue consuming high amounts of alcohol with no real risk of developing an addiction. However, certain people, such as those with a history of substance abuse or genetic predispositions, automatically are at a higher risk. Nevertheless, estimating what to expect from someone before it happens is really hard. As a rule of them, anyone abusing a controlled substance or alcohol secondary to chronic pain is at risk of developing an addiction.

How is acute pain different from chronic pain?

Acute pain describes the normal pain you feel on a day-to-day basis, such as the pain you feel after pricking yourself accidentally. Chronic pain, on the other hand, is more severe. Acute pain happens suddenly and does not usually last long, such as when you hit your thumb with a hammer or burn a finger on a stove. Once the acute injury heals, acute pain stops. Many doctors consider this “good pain” as it helps people know they have acquired an injury. When the pain persists for a long time, it becomes chronic and almost always indicative of an underlying disease. In general, chronic pain is when it persists for a minimum duration of three to six months.

Why do people acquire addiction due to chronic pain?

Living with chronic pain is not easy, as it causes physical strain, mental anguish, and trauma. Dealing with persistent pain sensations can be easily debilitating and significantly limit how a person lives their life. Hence, many people with chronic pain end up feeling anxious or depressed and are always afraid of the next flare-up of their painful symptoms. When someone with long-term pain develops depression or anxious thoughts, the levels of mood-regulating neurotransmitters, such as oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine, decrease, increasing their pain symptoms. At this point, many people may eventually resort to drugs or alcohol for artificial pain management, sometimes to the extent it triggers addiction.

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