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Opioid Addiction and Chronic Pain: How Can I Get Help?

Addiction and Chronic Pain
Dominic Nicosia

Written By

Dominic Nicosia

Opioids are sometimes prescribed for chronic pain. They work by binding to the opioid receptors of the brain. The resulting chemical signals are responsible for feelings of pleasure, euphoria and reduced pain. Chronic pain sufferers may be at increased risk for opioid addiction. These drugs carry a high potential for abuse and people can experience tolerance, dependence and withdrawal. Since chronic pain is – by its very definition – long-term, patients using opioids for this purpose are at an increased risk of becoming addicted. A person should be aware of how to use opioids safely and of potential symptoms of abuse so they may recognize signs that indicate the need for professional help.

What is Chronic Pain?

Pain that lasts for more than 12 weeks – often resulting from a medical procedure or injury – is considered chronic. It can be debilitating, resulting in mood swings, increased stress, mobility issues, appetite changes and other issues. Chronic pain can occur in any part of the body and several body parts at a time.

Symptoms of chronic pain include but are not limited to:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Breathing issues
  • Headaches
  • Joint pain
  • Nerve pain
  • Arthritis
  • Pain in the back
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Pain resulting from a traumatic injury

Health conditions that may cause chronic pain include cancer, obesity, AIDS, inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis (MS), intestinal cystitis, uterine fibroids and endometriosis. Lifestyle can also result in chronic pain symptoms, such as wearing the wrong shoes, having poor posture, natural conditions caused by aging, incorrectly lifting heavy objects and sleeping on the wrong type of mattress. Chronic pain makes it difficult to move your body, alters your appetite, causes tense muscles and lead to emotional distress resulting from long-term discomfort. People at increased risk of developing chronic pain include those who are obese, smoke tobacco, have suffered an injury and women.

Chronic Pain Medications

Chronic pain is usually treated with a combination of medications, occupational and physical therapy. People may be encouraged to eat healthier and change their lifestyle habits that contribute to or worsen pain, energy and/or stress.

Medications commonly prescribed for chronic pain include:

  • Opioids
  • *Muscle relaxers
  • Antidepressants
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Steroids, including prednisone
  • Seizure medications
  • Anti-inflammatory painkillers, including naproxen, ibuprofen and aspirin

*Muscle relaxers also carry a potential risk for abuse and addiction.

People with chronic pain conditions are often prescribed opioids and sometimes long-term. These drugs are extremely addictive and a person can develop symptoms of dependency and withdrawal. Withdrawal from opioids or synthetic opioids is physically and psychologically unpleasant and can lead to relapse. Sudden discontinuation of opioid drugs increases the chances a person will experience these symptoms. Many people who take opioids begin using them as prescribed by a medical professional for an injury. Some patients can become addicted and require larger doses than their doctors can prescribe and seek illicit drugs to feed their cravings. This has led to what is known as the “opioid crisis.”

What Are the Signs of Opioid Addiction?

Opioid medications like oxycodone and hydrocodone are often prescribed to relieve pain but can also cause feelings of euphoria, which can lead to addiction. A person addicted to opioids will continue to use the drug after they no longer need it. They will experience cravings and with long-term abuse, their brain chemistry has come to accommodate and rely on opioids in order to function. After prolonged use for months or years, the parts of the brain that regulate mood and emotion are damaged – which can lead to dangerous, risk-taking behavior. Eventually, a person will become tolerant and require a higher dose to achieve the same desirable effects. They then become dependent on opioids, meaning they experience physical discomfort without them and need them to feel “normal.” A person who is dependent on drugs can develop behavioral issues including being secretive about concealing their addiction, depression, irritability, shame and physical issues, including death due to overdose.

Additional symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Tachycardia
  • Severe cravings
  • Diarrhea
  • Flu-like symptoms, including fever, nausea and vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Watery eyes

People who seek treatment for opioid use disorder are more likely to maintain long-term recovery than those who try to quit alone. At Recovery Unplugged, we help people addicted to opioids using a holistic, patient-centered approach to treatment. We have facilities located across the country with board-certified or board-eligible doctors and therapists. We also offer comprehensive detox, behavioral, music and other supplemental therapies. Additionally, we provide various treatment options depending on individual needs and circumstances. Most major private insurance carriers are accepted and financing options are available. Call us today at 1-855-384-5794 to speak with a member of our staff at any time. Help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We look forward to helping you or your loved one overcome addiction to opioids.

Dominic Nicosia

Dominic Nicosia

The Senior Content Writer here at Recovery Unplugged, Dominic Nicosia oversees the maintenance of our online blog while also handling and overseeing all written communications within Marketing. He also writes articles, thought leadership pieces, and basically everything written regarding web content. Dominic has over seven years of writing experience in the addiction care field and a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing from the University of Arts in Philadelphia. Dominic has been writing and playing music for years and is the proud owner of a Jack Russell/Pitbull mix named Jack. His favorite books are The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre, and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.