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  1. Beenthere2Hippie
    With opioid addiction and prescription drug abuse considered one of the biggest public health threats of our time in the U.S., many are asking why so many Americans are struggling with addiction to illegal drugs and prescription medications. New research suggests that chronic pain may be part of the answer.

    In a study that appears in the May issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, researchers at Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center have found that the majority of patients misusing drugs and alcohol have chronic pain and many are using these substances to "self-medicate" their pain.

    According to the researchers, many illegal drugs such as marijuana and heroin have pain-relieving properties. The researchers screened approximately 25,000 patients in primary care for illegal drug use and misuse of prescription medications. Among these patients, 589 who screened positive for substance use were asked questions about chronic pain and their substance use. Substance use was defined as use of illegal drugs (heroin, marijuana, cocaine, etc.), use of prescription drugs in ways other than prescribed or high risk alcohol use.

    They found that 87 percent of those who screened positive for illegal drug use, misuse of prescription drugs or heavy alcohol use suffered from chronic pain. Half of these patients graded the pain as severe. In the subgroup that was using illegal drugs, 51 percent reported using one or more drug specifically to alleviate physical pain. In those using prescription drugs without a prescription or using more than prescribed, 81 percent identified self-medication of pain as the reason for misuse. With regard to high risk alcohol use, the majority (79 percent) did so to manage pain.

    "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," explained corresponding author Daniel Alford, MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine and assistant dean of Continuing Medical Education and director of the Safe and Competent Opioid Prescribing Education (SCOPE of Pain) program at BUSM. He is also the director of BMC's Clinical Addiction Research and Education Unit.

    The results of this study suggest that counseling focused only on informing patients about the negative consequences of drug and alcohol use may miss a key aspect of why people are using these substances. "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," added Alford.

    Story Source: The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Boston University Medical Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

    Journal Reference: Daniel P. Alford, Jacqueline S. German, Jeffrey H. Samet, Debbie M. Cheng, Christine A. Lloyd-Travaglini, Richard Saitz. Primary Care Patients with Drug Use Report Chronic Pain and Self-Medicate with Alcohol and Other Drugs. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 2016; 31 (5): 486 DOI: 10.1007/s11606-016-3586-5

    Boston University Medical Center/May 9,2016
    Newshawk Crew

    Author Bio

    BT2H is a retired news editor and writer from the NYC area who, for health reasons, retired to a southern US state early, and where BT2H continues to write and to post drug-related news to DF.


  1. vervain
    Huh. The prescription drug abuse part is obviously common sense, but alcohol.... I know many alcoholics and few-to-none of them drink primarily to manage physical pain. Mental pain, sure.
  2. perro-salchicha614
    Actually, I find that I get pretty decent analgesia from alcohol unless the pain is severe, although when I used to drink more heavily it was primarily to deal with psychological issues.

    I think it's also important to keep in mind that the study included lots of people who abused pain killers, which get a little extra "kick" from the addition of alcohol to the mix. I used to mix the two things quite regularly for that reason; it seemed to potentiate the effects of the pills. So, there was probably some overlap there between people abusing the two things.
  3. aemetha
    When I used to play football (Soccer for those unenlightened members) I used to have issues where I was constantly spraining my neck from header's, especially if there was any clash of bodies. After a while I figured out that I could go out and drink till the pain was reasonably reduced, and then have a good dance and basically throw my neck around a bit. When I woke up the next morning my neck would be healed in the same way a really long massage/physio session would do. So yeah, I've absolutely done this and it was really effective.
  4. Beenthere2Hippie
    Here's an interesting study out of the UK that seems to add credence to people's claims that drinking alcohol helps staunch their physical pain.
  5. nachofish
    Alcohol for sure helps with physical pain.

    Aemetha, I too play football and I've sprained my ankle several times, along with other types of injuries (muscular, blunt traumas). I know this most likely doesn't compare to the types of pain some people have to deal with, but alcohol did relieve it, to an extent.
  6. aemetha
    Yeah absolutely nacho. The muscle pain is the one that really stood out for me because you cure muscle pain through massaging, getting the blood flowing and generally working it out. Alcohol in my case made it much easier to do exactly that (In the form of dancing) by numbing the pain.
  7. vervain
    Just for the record, in my post above I meant that managing physical pain is far down on the list of root drinking causes for most alcoholics I know. No doubt it does give good short-term analgesia. I've badly sprained an ankle whilst drunk and proceeded to happily walk on it the rest of the night, until I had to cut the foot out of its cowboy boot due to swelling.

    Unfortunately the ratio of pain relief vs hangover/comedown (at least for me) doesn't compare well against, say, opiates. Though the latter comes back to bite you in other ways of course.
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