I want to talk about a difficult subject today…Chronic Pain and Addictions. When you live with Chronic Pain, you can find yourself spiraling in a dark hole. Sometimes depression becomes as big of a problem as the physical pain you live with, and in a desperate need to feel better, you find yourself turning to your medications too often, or you resort to drinking or eating as a way of filling the gap.
Addiction is easy to fall into, as often, you are not receiving adequate treatment for your pain to begin with. You find yourself taking your medictions sooner than directed, or you take more than recommended and then suddenly, you’re in withdrawal at the end of the month when your prescription has run out.
Instead of abusing your pain medications, you may turn to alcohol to increase the “buzz”, or food may become the drug of your choice. “Anything to dampen the pain” is what you might be thinking, and sometimes, it works. Other times, it feels like nothing can fill the unending gulf of pain you live with and so your depression deepens and you’re left feeling worthless. Thoughts of suicide may plague you but you resist telling others for fear they will see you as weak.
Let’s examine this problems in more detail.
Opioid abuse is an epidemic in the United States. In 2016, approximately 11.5 million Americans 12 years and older misused opioid pain medications, and 1.8 million had a substance use disorder involving prescription pain medications. From 2000 to 2015, more than 500,000 persons died from opioid overdoses, with deaths generally increasing as prescription opioid sales increased. In 2012, clinicians wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioids, enough for every U.S. adult.*
There are a variety of medications that are used in the treatment of Chronic Pain. As you probably know, there is a current push from to cut back on Opioids like Oxycodone and Hydrocodone because of perceived over-prescribing and the number of deaths linked to the mis-use of Opioids. The number of deaths from illegal Fentynal overdoses has increased dramatically, yet the people who actually require the drug for their Chronic Pain are being turned away by their physicians or are having their dosages cut back significantly.
PreGabalin, Gabapentin, and mixed drugs like Tramacet (Tramadol and Acetaminophen) are now being used more frequently, but not always to great benefit. This is one of the reasons the use of illegal Fentynal is increasing – people aren’t getting adequate relief from their doctor-prescribed medications and so they’re looking to the streets for solutions.
Throughout the ages, people have used alcohol to manage their pain. A swig of whiskey after a bullet wound in the old Westerns, or to numb the pain of a teething baby are two minor examples. A study done recently showed that 28% of people with Chronic Pain used alcohol to help control their pain**
Although alcohol has been shown to reduce pain, it’s a temporary solution and has potential and possible fatal risks. When you drink, you are more likely to abuse your prescription medications, resulting in furthering the sedative effects of both. You also increase the possibility of liver damage or gastric bleeding. Using alcohol as a pain medication often ends up with exceeding the recommended amount that you should drink and overdose of alcohol and/or prescription medications can be fatal.
Other points to note:
- Withdrawal from chronic alcohol use often increases pain sensitivity which could motivate some people to continue drinking or even increase their drinking to reverse withdrawal-related increases in pain.
- Prolonged, excessive alcohol exposure generates a painful small fiber peripheral neuropathy, the most common neurologic complication associated with alcoholism.
When a person is unable to control the amount of pain they live with, they may turn to food instead, as a way of finding relief. It doesn’t take away the pain, but satiating yourself gives back the illusion of that control that you’ve lost elsewhere. Anorexia and bingeing/purging become huge risks and lead to further medical problems.
Anorexia is the elimination of food from the diet, until your calorie intake is grossly under the recommended daily allowance for health. It is a psychological and potentially life-threatening eating disorder.
There are a multitude of health risks involved including mood swings, low blood pressure, heart problems, kidney and liver issues, loss of bone density and the very real possibility of death.
Bingeing and purging causes issues such as gastric problems, dental issues from vomiting and bile wearing at the teeth and gums, dehydration and depression issues. The use of excessive laxatives is hard on your bowels and runs the risk of chronic constipation, resulting in a Catch-22 of needing to use more laxatives to alleviate the constipation.
Excessive Exercise is another form of purging. By engaging in obscene amounts of exercise, you expose yourself to potential damage to your joints from overuse, dehydration, weakness and potential heart issues.
Other addictions to be careful about including smoking, gambling, shopping and sex although I’m sure you can think of even more. Each of these excessive behaviours can lead to damaging consequences so it’s imporant to be aware of them. When you live with Chronic Pain, you can have an “all or nothing” mentality – you simply want to do anything that will help you focus on something other than hurting.
The first step to any of these issues is to accept that you have a problem. Professional help is required to allow you to wean off of the drugs or alcohol, or to start a healthy relationship with food.
Support groups are available both in person and online and are highly recommended. To be with people who have gone through the same experiences as you have can be very comforting.
A Pain Management program may be suggested to help you get to the root of your problems, and to help you find solutions to managing your pain more effectively.
Talk to your family physician to start. Now is the time to be honest about what you’ve been going through and how you’ve been coping (or not coping). Accept that seeing a counsellor on a regular basis may be a requirement for your success. Having a safe place to talk goes a long way in setting goals for yourself and achieving them.
Ask about specific books that may help you understand Chronic Pain more completely. Knowledge is power.
Finally, realize that you are not a bad person. You may have made some bad choices, but recognizing them and changing them is what’s important. We all make mistakes, and even if you think you’re the worst person in the world…you’re not. You have value and worth and are deserving of the best care possible. Remember,
There Is Always Hope