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Use of drugs to self-medicate pain leads to addiction: Study

Law enforcement agencies and health care providers are leaving no stone unturned in tackling the surge in opioid abuse cases and thus, have been formulating guidelines and implementing regulations to check the problem. But amid this clamor, chronic pain sufferers believe that their cry for help and need for alternative treatment methods for pain management have been left unheard.

A recent study by the Boston University School of Medicine and the Boston Medical Center pointed out that not all people turn to addictive substances to get the “high” and that many a times people use these drugs to treat their prolonged and critical pain.

In the study, titled “Primary Care Patients with Drug Use Report Chronic Pain and Self-Medicate with Alcohol and Other Drugs,” the scientists analyzed details obtained from the survey of 25,000 patients visiting a primary care provider. The scientists aimed to assess the pervasiveness of prolonged pain and related discomfort among primary care patients detected positive for drug use and to determine the extent of drug use in them to relieve themselves of persistent pain.

Most patients abusing substances did so to self-medicate pain

The researchers focused on 589 patients who met the criteria for substance abuse or illegal drug use. Among them, 87 percent were found to suffer from unrelenting pain, with 74 percent of them complaining that the pain disabled them from performing normal activities. When asked about what led to their drug use habits, many patients confessed to using them in an attempt to alleviate the pain. Moreover, of the 576 people who were found to use illicit drugs, 51 percent cited self-medication as one of the reasons for heavy alcohol and marijuana use.

The scientists revealed that most of the patients abusing drugs and alcohol did so only as an option to self-medicate the pain, contrary to the common belief that people turn addicts in pursuit of pleasure and the high.

Lead author of the study and director of the Safe and Competent Opioid Prescribing Education program at Boston University School of Medicine, Dr. Daniel Alford, 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.”

Stressing on the fact that most people turned to heavy alcohol and drug abuse in an attempt to diminish the constant suffering from pain, the authors of the study said, “Chronic pain and pain-related dysfunction were the norm for primary care patients who screened positive for drug use, with nearly one-third reporting both severe pain and severe pain-related dysfunction.”

Tackling drug abuse

The study shed some light on the need for medical practitioners to analyze the current methods used to treat pain and devise alternative ways to help patients of chronic pain. There are several ways apart from medicines that can be effectively used to treat pain, including stress-reducing techniques and relaxation therapies.

As per the American Academy of Pain Medicine (AAPM), an estimated 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. The America Pain Society said that the country has to shell out approximately $560 to $635 billion each year for the treatment of chronic pain.

Recovery is possible

Addiction does not happen at once. Any kind of addiction is harmful, be it dependence on alcohol or drugs. The first step to recovery is to realize and admit that one has a problem with addiction and needs help.

If you or your loved one is addicted and is looking for help, you may contact the 24/7 Recovery Helpline for more information on drug addiction rehabilitation centers available in your vicinity. You may call at our 24/7 helpline number 855-441-4405 or chat online for further advice on addiction treatment centers.


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