Self-Medicating Chronic Pain Leads to Drug and Alcohol Abuse
A large percentage of addicts abusing drugs and alcohol is afflicted with chronic pain and self-medication to manage the pain becomes their gateway to addiction, according to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine in May 2016. The researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center said that chronic pain in addicts could be the possible reason for the increasing number of substance abuse cases in the United States.
Prescription drug abuse epidemic is one of the deadliest scars in the public health domain of the U.S. and a majority of them are fueled by self-medication by addicts suffering from chronic pain. They extensively use the substances to get relief from pain only to get entangled further in the quagmire. The researchers said that the pain-relieving properties of drugs like marijuana and heroin are to be blamed for the pandemic in the country.
Pain most ubiquitous driving force for addicts to take drugs
The researchers quizzed approximately 25,000 patients in primary care for illegal drug use and prescription pill abuse. Some 589 patients among them who screened positive for substance use were asked questions regarding their chronic pain and substance use, which included the use of illegal drugs like heroin, marijuana, cocaine, etc., and use of prescription drugs in ways other than prescribed or high-risk alcohol use.
The researchers found that pain was the most ubiquitous driving force for the addicts to take drugs. Some of the key observations made were:
• 87 percent of those screened positive for illegal drug use and misuse of prescription drugs or heavy alcohol use suffered from chronic pain. Almost 50 percent of them termed the pain as severe.
• 51 percent of the people in the subgroup using illegal drugs reported using one or more drug to alleviate physical pain.
• 81 percent of the respondents admitted self-medication for pain as the principal reason for misuse of drugs.
• In the high-risk alcohol using group, 79 percent people drank to relieve pain.
Pain should be treated as part of long-term strategy for recovery
Corresponding author Daniel Alford, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of medicine, assistant dean of Continuing Medical Education, director of the Safe and Competent Opioid Prescribing Education (SCOPE of Pain) program at BUSM, said, "While the association between chronic pain and drug addiction has been observed in prior studies, this study goes one step further to quantify how many of these patients are using these substances specifically to treat chronic pain. It also measures the prevalence of chronic pain in patients who screen positive for illegal drug use and prescription drug abuse."
He added, "Pain should be treated as part of the long-term strategy for recovery. If drugs are being used to self-medicate pain, patients may be reluctant to decrease, stop, or remain abstinent if their pain symptoms are not adequately managed with other treatments including non-medication-based treatments."
Mere counseling and highlighting the negative consequences of drug and alcohol use may not suffice; the focus should be on the root cause as to why people abuse these substances in the first place.
Beginning the treatment
Substance abuse treatment is possible with timely intervention at right treatment centers. The drug detox centers are known to have the best treatment for substance abuse in the region. Whether it is the rapid drug detox or any conventional treatment, the state has some of the best rehabs in the country.
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