Why Chronic Pain Management Can Turn to Addiction

Chronic pain is common for many people. Millions of Americans deal with discomfort, only to end up struggling with painkiller dependence and addiction when they seek treatment. Conditions which lead to chronic pain can be anything from traumatic injuries in veterans to injuries sustained by first responders or even mental health conditions. Although chronic pain sufferers experience a lot of challenges, there is hope for them to find relief when they seek treatment for substance use and find other ways to manage the pain differently.


Some people are more susceptible to addiction when they use substances. While treating chronic pain can use painkillers with addictive properties, some people may be more genetically predisposed to being addicted than others. Chronic pain itself can make people vulnerable to addiction simply by having access to prescription pain medication. Pain is difficult to live with when it shows up every day, disrupting a person’s sleep, ability to work, or capacity to live a quality of life they deserve. When someone deals with chronic pain, over time they may develop low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues that can go unaddressed. Veterans and first responders often live with physical challenges of doing their jobs, symptoms of PTSD, and other conditions which make it hard to cope at work or home without medication. Living under the heavyweight of emotions that include depressive symptoms alongside physical ones, it becomes a recipe for addiction. 

Painkiller Addiction and Chronic Pain

Opioids are one way to treat pain through the use of prescription painkillers. OxyContin and Percocet are among the same class of drugs like heroin or morphine. These drugs reduce the perception of pain. Many people are able to take prescription painkillers without an addiction but, for some, they are not able to escape its effects. Opioid drugs generate negative side effects, which make people unwilling to experience them. They take, instead, a larger dose or take the medication more frequently. Tolerance often develops. Increasing amounts of medication are needed for the same effect. While some may desire the euphoric feelings from the drugs, others simply are trying to keep the chronic pain at bay which continues to cause them challenges even when using prescription medication. The drug will not work the same way over time and they continue to use more or switch to a higher dose to feel the effects. It may seem to work, for a while, until they realize dependence or addiction has built-in their system. 

Using Other Substances

Most of the time when people become addicted, prescription drugs are the first thing that comes to mind. Not everyone uses prescription drugs like painkillers. Mixing alcohol with acetaminophen can raise the risk of liver failure. Combining alcohol with opioids increases sedation. With chronic pain, some people turn to marijuana to relieve symptoms. Several states have moved to legalize medical marijuana which leaves many people vulnerable to its effects. Drug rehab is for people who struggle with management of their addiction and mental health conditions, but there are many pathways people take which lead them there. 

Signs of Addiction

There are some warning signs to be mindful of when helping a loved one with chronic pain management. Although many people think being up close will give them a better perspective on things, they can easily miss signs if they don’t know what to look for:

  • Using higher than recommended doses
  • Changes in personality or mood
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Declining hygiene habits
  • Seeking prescriptions from physicians to keep getting more meds
  • Responsibilities shift or decline over time due to the use or effects of use
  • Talking about or discussing use more and more

Treatment Options

When someone is addicted to painkillers, they can experience life-threatening complications. For people with addiction, professional help is usually a barrier due to cost, location, services provided, or finding time away from family. However, there is nothing more important than regaining your life back from addiction. Counseling can help develop the skills needed to cope with negative emotions. If the pain goes untreated, it creates a serious potential for relapse. Pain management may focus on non-drug strategies. Regular exercise triggers the release of endorphins and dietary changes may reduce painful inflammation. Holistic therapies can often be helpful. 

Finding Hope

One of the hardest things to navigate in recovery is finding hope again after the trials of addiction. Treatment is one way to do this, but there are also connection groups, recovery programs, and sober living environments that all help someone move forward one step at a time. Aftercare programs are often one of the best ways to help people who are not able to return to their community just yet without a safety net under them. The key to hope in recovery is not giving up the thought they can, and will, succeed in what they hope to do. Rehab staff will help people rebuild their lives without the use of painkillers. A drug treatment program focuses on holistic recovery, from a mind, body, and spirit approach to support a person finding professional help. With this in mind, people can often move forward with hope for the future in recovery.

Forge is a place to come and recover your life from addiction. We help you reimagine what is possible and create the life you’ve been dreaming of.

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