How Are Chronic Pain and Addiction Connected?

Understanding the Link Between Chronic Pain and Addiction

Chronic Pain and AddictionThe human body is an amazing creation. It can grow, heal, and adapt. If you get in a blazingly hot bath, your body can adjust to make the water feel more comfortable. When it’s dark, your eyes can regulate to see more clearly.

The body does have limitations, though. When pain is chronic, it is challenging for the body to change and absorb the discomfort.

There are so many conditions that cause chronic pain. Whether it was a problem that began at birth or something that developed later in life, chronic pain is an everyday reality for many people.

The Impact of Pain

Chronic pain carries a long list of feelings with it. People who experience chronic pain often report feeling:

  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Anxiety and high stress
  • Irritability
  • Frustration
  • Confusion
  • Hopelessness
  • A yearning for life without pain

All of these unwanted feelings translate into a sense of desperation.

When people are desperate, they will turn towards unhealthy measures to improve their circumstances, even if the benefits only last for a few minutes or a few hours. They will engage in actions they wouldn’t do ordinarily because of their desire to feel better.

Substances of Concern

This is where substance use comes into the discussion. When people are in pain, they will look to substances to feel better.

For the purpose of this article, substances and substance use will have a broad definition to include many substances that change your body and/or your mind, like:

  • Illicit drugs. Cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, and others.
  • Marijuana. Though legal in some situations, this substance proves problematic for many.
  • Alcohol.
  • Pain pills. These medications are commonly opioids for chronic pain. Doctors prescribe these regularly, but they carry risk of addiction and dependency, even when used as prescribed.
  • Other prescription pills. Other medications can be problematic, like benzodiazepines (Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, and others). These medications reduce anxiety and irritability by slowing down the body and inducing relaxation.
  • Caffeine and sugar. Though mild compared to the others, these substances can create concerns for people that consume too much of them.

People in pain are looking for relief, so they will experiment with substances to alleviate their symptoms.


Next page: how addiction becomes a negative coping skill.

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Eric PattersonEric Patterson

Eric Patterson, LPC is a professional counselor in western Pennsylvania working for the last 10 years to help children, teens and adults achieve their goals and live happier lives. Read more about Eric and his writing at

Jul 11, 2016
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