Chronic Pain and Addiction


In 2017, almost 200 million Americans were prescribed opioids despite the fact that these drugs killed 48,000 people in the same year. Chronic pain and addiction can happen as a result of prescription opioids. They are very strong, run a high risk of addiction, and can easily result in an overdose.

Catching an opioid use disorder before an overdose can be the difference between life and death. Although it’s difficult, people can get through both with the right help. Dealing with both health conditions at the same time is crucial to recovery.

What is Chronic Pain?


According to Cleveland Clinic, chronic pain usually lasts more than six months and occurs frequently. Some sources say it’s chronic pain when it lasts 12 weeks or longer. It often has no specific cause. Chronic pain may start as a result of a medical condition but might not go away after that condition is treated. Constant pain can make it hard to function and might turn into another health condition as a result.

Chronic pain is connected to: 

  • Fibromyalgia (a complicated disorder that results in chronic nerve pain)
  • Arthritis
  • Headaches
  • Nerve pain
  • Cancer
  • Back pain

What is Addiction?


An addiction is when a person has an uncontrolled behavior or habit despite harmful consequences. Severe alcohol and substance use disorders are types of addictions. However, people can become addicted to anything like gambling or exercising.

Common signs of addiction include: 

  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Habitually being late to work or school
  • Drastic changes in physical appearance and personal hygiene
  • A new desire for constant privacy
  • Sudden changes in relationships (ie: cutting ties with close friends and loved ones for new friends)
  • Sudden changes in energy levels
  • Increased financial difficulty and asking to borrow money more than usual
  • Neglecting important responsibilities, like paying bills or picking kids up from school
  • A drastic change in appetite and diet
  • Constantly looking sick and tired
  • Acting defensive about substance use

There is a misconception that people choose to live with an alcohol or substance use disorder. But when people suffer from addiction, it chains their body and mind to drugs. A strong physical and psychological dependence manifests that they can’t get rid of without help. People suffering from chronic pain and addiction won’t be able to stop without getting severe withdrawal symptoms.

The signs above may not always mean someone has an addiction. It’s better to be safe than sorry. A simple conversation about it can save a life.

What Leads to the Combination of Chronic Pain and Addiction?


Physical and mental health are deeply connected. An issue with one can turn into an issue with another. According to Mental Health America, people with depression and anxiety can feel physical pain as a result of their mental illness. Chronic mental illness can translate into chronic pain.

People suffering from an underlying health condition may resort to alcohol or substance abuse to mask emotional or physical pain. Then, they might try to self-medicate without truly understanding the consequences. Also, they might not have health insurance. Around 73% of people said they didn’t have health insurance because they weren’t able to afford it.

Chronic Pain and Addiction to Prescription Opioids


A doctor may prescribe prescription opioids when an individual suffers from chronic pain. If a person is still in pain after they take the second dose they might double it without a doctor’s permission. This is one way how medical drug use can turn into substance abuse. A person can develop a tolerance for strong painkillers if they use too much for too long.

Common types of prescription opioids include: 

  • Fentanyl
  • Codeine
  • Morphine
  • Oxymorphone
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (Oxycontin and Percocet)

Of course, it’s much less likely for a person to become addicted to painkillers when it’s under medical supervision. However, many become addicted to prescription opioids because of the “high” that comes with it.

Short-Term Effects of Prescription Opioids

  • Feeling relaxed
  • Intense euphoria
  • Becoming more friendly
  • Drowsiness
  • Nauseous
  • Itchy
  • Sweaty

Long-Term Effects of Prescription Opioids

  • Death
  • Building a tolerance to them
  • Severe constipation
  • Central sleep apnea
  • Irregular breathing patterns
  • Hypoxemia (low levels of oxygen in the blood)
  • Carbon dioxide retention
  • Increased overdose risk
  • Heart failure and other heart issues (the chance increases by 77% over time)
  • Clinical depression

Painkillers are opiates, which are made to mimic the effects of the poppy plant. The high can be very addictive even though it is deadly. Opiates are central nervous system (CNS) depressants. That means that they slow down the body’s systems. The CNS plays a role in breathing, which is what makes opiates so dangerous. A person can stop breathing and die in a coma if they take too much.

Signs of Opioid Addiction

Opioid use disorders are life-threatening and difficult to overcome without professional medical intervention. It becomes more complicated when an individual suffers from chronic pain and addiction. It’s called a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder when a person suffers from multiple health disorders at the same time.

Knowing these signs and symptoms of opioid addiction can help stop it before it gets worse: 

  • Asking for money for vague reasons and having financial difficulties
  • Going to the doctor to refill an opioid prescription even though a person still has more
  • Unable to control opioid use
  • Intense opioid cravings
  • Developing a tolerance to opioids
  • Overdosing on opioids
  • Risky use despite the consequences

People suffering from an addiction will likely display some of the same signs and symptoms. However, it might be tougher to spot with an opioid use disorder. It’s tough to spot an addiction when a person is legally prescribed opioids. Loved ones should be aware that it happens even though it’s less likely.

Professional Treatment for Opioid Addiction


When a person has an opioid use disorder, a doctor may choose to treat their co-occurring disorders with medication-assisted treatment. Suboxone is one medication that doctors at chronic pain and addiction treatment centers might use to treat an opioid use disorder. It’s a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone.

Suboxone acts as a partial opioid antagonist and agonist. It binds to opioid receptors to induce feelings of relaxation, pain relief, and happiness but to a much lesser extent, unlike full opioid agonists. An antagonist blocks the opioid receptors to stop an opioid effect. If a person is suffering from chronic pain and addiction, doctors will likely prescribe Suboxone in the place of something potentially more addictive, like methadone.

Therapy for Addiction

Therapy is a powerful way to help overcome chronic pain and addiction. There are several kinds that may benefit one individual more than another. Dealing with chronic pain and addiction puts physical strain on people, but it deeply affects their psyche as well. Therapy can help them overcome this aspect.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy For Addiction

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a type of therapy that recognizes that people have automatic thoughts. These thoughts aren’t necessarily good or bad all the time. However, certain negative thoughts can affect a person’s mental health and self-perception. Cognitive-behavioral therapy works to stop negative thought patterns before they happen.

The theory behind it is that there is an automatic, subconscious thought before every conscious thought. Identifying this thought in between an event and a conscious thought can help stop the cycle.

For instance, when people experience chronic pain they might subconsciously think they can’t get through the day without opioids. Then they consciously decide to take more drugs. Identifying and changing that thought to something more motivational and positive can help them get through each day without substance abuse.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy For Addiction

Dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT for short, stems off of the theory behind cognitive-behavioral therapy. However, it focuses more on stopping behaviors and changing them to positive ones before or on top of changing automatic thoughts.

DBT recognizes that subconscious thoughts can hurt mental health. The theory reasons that there is validity to them. Emotional validation can help patients overcome their health issues.

This form of therapy heavily focuses on being mindful, instead of pure logic. A DBT therapist will find the middle ground behind negative thoughts and the truth. By changing behaviors and being mindful, people with an addiction and chronic pain can engage in positive behaviors to distract them from their pain.

Holistic Therapy at Chronic Pain and Addiction Treatment Centers

Holistic therapy goes by many names. A couple includes alternative medicine and holistic healing.  It’s an overarching term to describe therapeutic practices that heal the body, mind, and soul. Holistic therapy takes many forms, such as: 

  • Nutrition therapy
  • Exercise therapy
  • Adventure therapy
  • Reiki
  • Art therapy
  • Massage therapy
  • Acupuncture

People suffering from addiction and chronic pain can choose a gentle form of holistic therapy to complement CBT and DBT. A comprehensive plan involves multiple types of treatment. The positive behaviors learned during holistic therapy can translate into better mental and physical health when treatment is over.

One of the Best Chronic Pain and Addiction Treatment Centers


We consider ourselves to be one of the best chronic pain and addiction treatment centers in West Virginia for multiple reasons. We provide patients with several treatment options to create a plan that best fits their struggles.

Also, we provide detox services, which are crucial to go through before treatment. You can overcome constant pain and the temptation to use drugs and alcohol with the right team. Contact us now to see how Harmony Ridge can help you or a loved one overcome both.


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