How Chronic Pain Can Lead to Addiction

Chronic Pain and Addiction

Pain: it’s a natural part of life we all experience at some point or another, typically due to an injury, illness, or as we age. As your body’s signal to the brain that something is wrong and needs attention, pain serves the important purpose of helping to ensure your continued survival. In most cases, pain can be remedied by addressing its cause: treating a minor wound, addressing digestive discomfort, removing painful stimuli to alleviate a headache etc. However, for people with disorders like Fibromyalgia, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, Migraine, and other health conditions causing chronic pain, relief may be difficult to come by.

More than one in five people in the United States deal with chronic pain.  Typically this is an issue caused by other conditions like neurological, musculoskeletal, or inflammatory disorders. However, in some cases chronic pain exists without any immediately apparent cause. Many people living with chronic pain may also have co-occurring mental health conditions related to or worsened by changes in their physical health and ability to function. This distress can lead to substance misuse as a means to cope with the physical and emotional effects of living with a chronic pain condition.

If you are affected by chronic pain, you are not alone. Here, we’ll explore different types of chronic pain, and options for chronic pain treatment. We’ll also take a look at why some chronic pain medications are addictive, and what you can do if you find that you’re living with addiction to opioids or other pain medication.

What is Chronic Pain?

Pain sensors in your body’s central nervous system are activated when you experience an injury or illness. The sensors send a message to the brain, which then processes the signal and triggers your body’s autonomic responses to address the issue. In some cases, such as when you receive a minor cut, this would include sending red and white blood cells to fight off potential infection and seal the injured area. The same happens when you fracture a bone, which is why doctors will set the injury in place and stabilize it while your body’s blood and bone cells work to make the repair. In these ways, pain signals can be helpful, if unpleasant. However, with  chronic pain disorders, the cause of the pain signal has been healed, but the pain signals continue to fire in the brain. 

Chronic Pain and Opioid Abuse

Chronic pain is defined as any pain that lasts for three to six months or more. Many people who live with chronic pain find that the severity of their pain may wane depending on several factors, including stress levels, weather changes, other health issues, and more. It can be difficult for people who live with chronic pain to deal with the unpredictability of each day. Not knowing what the pain will be like each morning can make it hard to plan activities and look forward to the days and weeks ahead. 

People who live with chronic pain may struggle to get through day-to-day life and find themselves unable to work or engage in social activities. This isolating factor of life with chronic pain can further exacerbate feelings of stress, depression, anxiety, or pre-existing mental health conditions. Mental health issues caused by chronic pain can then exacerbate chronic pain symptoms, creating a cycle that can be difficult to break.

Types of Chronic Pain

There are two main types of chronic pain: neuropathic pain and nociceptive pain. 

Neuropathic pain is caused by the nerves that transmit pain signals to the brain. When a person experiences neuropathic pain, the nerves responsible for transmitting pain signals to the brain are damaged or not functioning properly. This can cause a person to experience pain despite a lack of injury. 

Nociceptive pain happens when pain messages are sent to the brain even though an injury has healed. Within the category of nociceptive pain, there are two subcategories: somatic pain and visceral pain. Somatic pain involves the outer body, including the joints, bones, skin, muscles, etc. Visceral pain includes the inner organs. Not all organs have pain receptors. People who experience visceral pain may find it difficult to pinpoint exactly where the pain originates. Sometimes, visceral pain is referred to as referred pain.

Chronic Pain and Addiction

Many people who seek treatment for chronic pain are prescribed medications that affect the part of the brain that interprets pain signals. Opioid medications (like OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, and codeine) change the way the brain interprets pain. These medications can be addictive, and many people find themselves struggling with mental health issues related to opioid addiction when trying to discover a plan that works for treating their chronic pain.

Opioid addiction is a public health crisis. In 2015, healthcare professionals wrote almost 240 million opioid prescriptions, and that number continues to grow. Overprescribing is a major contributor to the opioid crisis. Many people recovering from surgery or an injury are sent home with powerful opioid painkillers without adequate education about the risks associated with their use. Even when they take the medication as directed at the start, it’s easy to become dependent on opioids and need more and more of the drug to beat the pain—and eventually, more and more of the drug just to get through the day. 

It’s important that people who are living with chronic pain work closely with their doctor and pain specialist to develop an appropriate pain management program. People who have had previous issues with addiction may choose to steer clear of addictive pain management options.

Discovery Point Retreat: How We Can Help

At Discovery Point Retreat, we offer our clients a peaceful, serene, homelike setting that offers the chance to get away from it all and fully focus on recovery. We offer individualized treatment plans that support you in your journey to sobriety. Our compassionate staff members work closely with clients to help you develop the foundational skills necessary for long-term wellness. We help patients wean off opioid use, creating a peaceful-as-possible return to one’s natural, opioid-free state.

Alternatives to Opioids

Addiction to opioids can feel difficult to overcome for anyone, but people who experience chronic pain can find it especially tough to imagine a life without opioids. Thankfully, there are alternatives to opioid use that can provide the pain relief necessary for a functional, happier life.

Medication Options

In some cases, people who are living with opioid addiction still need medication to help them manage their pain. There are several opioid-free medication options that can help people living with chronic pain, including: 

  • Buprenorphine
  • Gabapentin
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Antidepressants
  • Muscle relaxants

Non-Medicated Options

There are also non-medicated pain management options that can help people who are living with chronic pain, including:

  • Heat and ice
  • Turmeric
  • Ginger
  • Chiropractic care
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Movement therapy
  • Yoga
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Biofeedback treatment

If you’re living with opioid addiction, you’re not alone. It’s possible to get things back on track, and it all starts with letting someone know that you need help. Reach out today to learn more about how we can help you get your life back, one healthy decision at a time. Call us at 855-306-8054 to start your recovery.


We’re here to help you get started. Tell us a little bit about you or your loved one: