If you’re reading this, you are probably a human being. And, if you happen to be a human being, you know that physical pain is a part of life. We’ve all experienced varying degrees of pain at some point during our journey on planet Earth. Whether it’s a toothache, the stubbing of a toe, an ingrown fingernail, or a headache – to be human is to know pain.
However; there is a far cry between temporary (acute) pain and chronic pain. Temporary pain is uncomfortable, but it passes. The pain goes almost as quickly as it comes. It hurts, but soon enough, it is nothing more than an unpleasant memory. Chronic pain, on the other hand, is a pain that goes on and on. It is everlasting. It is continuous and pervasive. It is absolutely miserable.
Chronic pain is enough to drive even the strongest person into a deep, dark depression. It erodes at all that is good and wonderful in this life. Chronic pain can cause someone to slip into a hopeless state of mind. It can also cause someone to become addicted.
Learn the risks of living with chronic pain and developing and addiction.
What is Pain…..And Why Do We Have to Have it?
Pain is defined as “physical suffering or discomfort caused by illness or injury.” Pain is the body’s way of signaling you that something is “wrong,” “bad,” or “abnormal.” Although we don’t welcome pain and typically do not think of it this way, pain can actually be a good thing.
For instance, most headaches are caused by dehydration. A headache is the body’s way of alerting you that you need water. If you have excruciating pain in your back, it could mean that you are passing a kidney stone and need medical attention. If you have chest pains, you might be having a heart attack, which means you need to call 911 for assistance. If you sprain your ankle playing tennis, pain is the body’s way of instructing you to stop playing the game so you can get first aid for your injury.
Pain can also be an indicator that a certain activity or action is not healthy and should be stopped immediately. Think about the pain that comes when you accidentally touch a hot burner on the stove, for example. Pain from the burn signals the body to move swiftly away from the source of the pain because it is dangerous. Yes, pain can often be a good thing. It is designed to bring us quickly back to a place of wellness by forcing us to take positive action in order to stop it.
The Different Types of Pain and How They are Measured
There are two main types of pain – acute and chronic. Acute pain is intense and comes on quickly. It generally lasts a short period of time and comes to an end once the source of the pain is treated. Chronic pain is a type of pain that lasts much, much longer than acute pain and can continue all day, every day for weeks, months, or even years. Chronic pain happens when the source of the pain cannot be alleviated because of serious illness or injury.
In addition to acute and chronic pain, there are a number of different classifications of pain: nociceptive, non-nociceptive/neuropathic, somatic, visceral, and sympathetic.
Nociceptive Pain happens when specific pain receptors in the brain are stimulated. These receptors feel physical sensations like hot and cold, vibrations, and stretches in the body.
Non-nociveptive (Neuropathic) Pain happens in the nervous system, rather than the brain. This type of pain affects the nerves.
Somatic Pain is a type of nociceptive pain, often referred to as musculo-skeletal pain. This kind of pain is felt in the skin, bones, joints, ligaments, and muscles. Somatic pain is usually specific to one particular area of the body.
Visceral Pain is another type of nociceptive pain. Visceral pain is experienced in the body’s internal organs and main cavities. You might expect visceral pain in the lungs, heart, kidney, liver, and other major organs. Unlike somatic pain, visceral pain is not sharp and localized. It is more like a deep, nagging ache.
Sympathetic Pain is pain that occurs around the site of an injury like a fracture or inflammation. It is the pain or swelling that happens in arthritis. Basically, it is pain caused by the pain of something else.
There is no real way to measure pain except by the person who experiences it. Doctor’s diagnose pain by asking patients to describe it. This is rather difficult. There are no real words to describe pain except for maybe expressions like dull, sharp, stabbing, or ache. Another way doctors diagnose pain is asking patients to rate it by using a scale of 1-10.
Pain Management and Addiction –Why the Two Go Hand-in-Agonizing-Hand
Although uncomfortable, being treated for acute pain is rather uncomplicated. To do away with acute pain, you simply go to its source and treat the injury or illness. Then, the pain is gone. Chronic pain is far more complicated.
Chronic pain is the result of a chronic, ongoing injury or illness. It persists, in spite of all efforts to treat it. Arthritis, sports injuries, Fibromyalgia, tumors, migraine headaches, and neuropathic pain are just a few of the many examples of conditions that cause chronic pain. The National Institute on Health estimates that as much as one-third of the American population lives with some level of chronic pain, costing the country as much as $500 billion each year.
Because chronic pain is so unbearable for the person who experiences it, doctors will often prescribe narcotic pain medication to give the sufferer some relief. After trying everything else to do away with chronic pain, most people become willing to do just about anything to get a reprieve from this hopeless state of being.
Although there are a number of ways to manage chronic pain, the most common method is medication. Hydrocodone, Morphine, Oxycodone, and Fentanyl are popular choices for doctors when they want to give a patient a retrieve from chronic pain. The problem is, these substances are highly addictive and increase a person’s risk for becoming addicted.
When you suffer from chronic pain, you are at an increased risk for addiction. Here’s why:
- You have access to opiates, which are a specific classification of drugs. Opiates are commonly prescribed for chronic pain. Unfortunately, they highly addictive and harmful to the brain and the body.
- Opiates are prescribed by a licensed physician for legitimate reasons. The bottle has your name on it. You now have a free pass to take drugs.
- You take your medication every day. This causes the body to become physically dependent on the narcotics you have been prescribed.
- Before long, your body builds a tolerance. You need more and more medication to get relief for your pain.
- You increase your dosage and find that even higher levels of the drug no longer work for you.
- After awhile, the drugs offer little help, but now you are addicted and cannot function without your prescribed medication.
- Your addiction causes negative consequences in your life, but you continue using your medication to cope with the pain and your painful existence.
- You need help because you cannot stop taking opiates on your own.
Living With Chronic Pain and Overcoming Addiction
If you are living with chronic pain, but you are addicted to opiates, you might want to consider getting professional help. Living with chronic pain is no way to live, but living with an addiction to opiates is no way to live either. While chronic pain can suck the joy out of life, there is no more destructive demon to battle than that of addiction.
Make no mistake about it – accidental overdose and death are very real possibilities for those who are addicted to opiates. If you are addicted to opiates, you are putting your life and your overall health at risk. Physically, you may end up worse than you started when you decided to take opiates in the first place. Though you started taking opiates to alleviate your chronic pain, do you find that you now have a much bigger problem to manage?
If you have become physically addicted to opiates as the result of living with chronic pain, recovery is possible. You can detox from the medication and get your life back on track. You may need to attend an inpatient treatment facility to detox off the medication. Outpatient treatment may also be an option. There are also 12-Step groups like Opiates Anonymous that offer peer support for people who are struggling with an addiction to opiates.
Although medication is the most popular way to manage chronic pain, it is not the only way to tackle the problem. If you have found that your medication is no longer working for you, talk to your doctor about alternative treatment methods.
Are you reading this article because you are concerned about a loved one who is living with chronic pain and addicted to opiates? Find out how you can be supportive of their recovery and encourage them to get treatment for their addiction.