Addiction recovery is never easy, but it’s even harder when you also suffer from chronic pain. If you have never had a problem with substance abuse, you could potentially be prescribed painkillers —  benzodiazepines, sedatives, and/or muscle relaxants — to achieve a better quality of life. However, if you’re in recovery from addiction, many of these prescription drugs are especially dangerous and could put you right back into active addiction. This presents a seemingly insurmountable problem: What options does someone in recovery have when it comes to getting relief for chronic pain?

Chronic Pain and Addiction

Man with chronic painThe connection between chronic pain and addiction has existed for many years, but it has only recently gained a great deal of press coverage. Research on the connection between pain treatments and addiction is still being fully developed. However, physicians have asserted that the rate at which chronic pain patients become addicted to their prescribed opioids may be lower than anticipated. According to experts, many people who are prescribed addictive pharmaceuticals for legitimate purposes tend to have a healthy fear of addiction from the start, making them more cautious in their use of their medications.1

Doctors who treat patients that suffer from chronic pain need to assess when patients may be at an elevated risk of substance dependency. Doctors must be on the lookout and ask each patient how long he or she has been under treatment for chronic pain, and if there is any history of addiction substance misuse in the past. In fact, even a family history of addiction could be reason enough for a doctor to reconsider treating a patient’s pain with opioid painkillers.

Not every patient who uses painkiller treatment will become addicted. However, a number of surveys have been conducted among individuals who have sought treatment for substance use disorder. In general, an estimated 30 to 40 percent of patients under treatment for addiction claim to suffer from some type of chronic pain.1 However, it is believed that these figures are inflated since opioid addiction, by nature, exacerbates chronic pain and increases a person’s sensitivity to pain. Opioid use, over time, will lead to chemical changes in the brain that create opioid dependence and physiological addiction.2

ImPAT: Improving Pain During Treatment

In general, between 30 and 40 percent of addicts receiving addiction treatment claim to suffer from some type of chronic pain.

Anyone struggling with addiction who also suffers from chronic pain needs to find an effective pain management solution. If her pain continues to go unaddressed or escalates, the desperate need for relief may lead to a relapse. Although alternative, non-medicinal forms of treatment aren’t necessarily a novel idea for pain management, recent tests conducted on a psychosocial form of pain intervention has yielded extremely promising results. It’s possible that this new pain management solution could be the missing link for people in addiction recovery to get relief from chronic pain.

The pain management intervention in question is called ImPAT, which stands for improving pain during addiction treatment. The idea behind ImPAT is to treat both the addiction and the chronic pain simultaneously in the hope of helping a recovering addict to manage his or her pain without resorting to addictive painkillers and, therefore, relapsing.In effect, this group-based approach is grounded in a more psychological perspective of pain, combining behavioral therapy and social support into a single intervention.

In a study consisting of 55 veterans who suffered from substance abuse problems and chronic pain, ImPAT sessions were provided weekly for 10 weeks. According to the study authors’ observations, veterans who participated in ImPAT sessions reported a decrease in symptom severity. Specifically, ImPAT helped the participants adapt to their pain, taught them how to distract themselves from their pain and helped them find ways to function in spite of their pain.

In most instances, the participants showed improved physical and psychological functioning while also decreasing their intake of addictive substances. These improvements persisted for approximately one year after the 10 weeks of ImPAT sessions. Meanwhile, the control group — individuals who didn’t participate in ImPAT sessions — didn’t exhibit the improvements seen in the test group.The results of the study have been extremely promising, so the study authors are now conducting an additional test with a larger sample of 480 people.4 If the results of the second study are congruent with the first, ImPAT could see widespread use.

Best of all, ImPAT is an inexpensive form of pain management intervention, and relatively easy to implement. With opioid addiction remaining a major problem for millions of Americans today, this could be exactly the type of treatment needed to ensure even the most specific recovery needs are met.

Find Help for Opioid Addiction at Skywood

Skywood Recovery stands ready to help with the most up-to-date information on current pain management and substance use concerns. Our experienced recovery professionals are available seven days a week to help you or someone you love find wellness. Call us today to learn more.

1 Vimont, C. Challenges of Treating Chronic Pain in People with Opioid Dependence.The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. 24 June 2011. Retrieved 2 Jul 2017.

2 Burke, S. Painkillers Can Sometimes Increase Chronic Pain. Spine Health. 13 Jul 2016. Retrieved 2 Jul 2017.

3 Alford, D. Treating Patients with Pain and Addiction Issues. Pain Edu. N.d. Retrieved 2 Jul 2017.

Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction: Study Shows Promise of Non-Drug Pain Management.  27 Jul 2016. Retrieved 2 Jul 2017.

Written by Dane O’Leary