The Link Between Opioid Abuse and Chronic Pain Conditions

Chronic pain that’s caused by injury or diseases other than cancer is a debilitating medical condition that is among the most controversial to manage. This is because of the rise of opioid-based medications being used to treat chronic pain in recent years, which has caused the rapid increase in opiate drug abuse to be termed an epidemic in America. According to reports from within the opiate addiction treatment community, there are more people in rehab today as a result of opiate abuse than ever before.

An opioid is a synthetic version of the opiates like morphine or heroin that can be just as addictive. Opioid-based painkillers such as Percocet, OxyContin, and Vicodin were initially prescribed by physicians for chronic pain conditions in the 1990s. At that time, it was widely believed that they were a safe option for people managing debilitating symptoms. In the following years, more variants of opioid painkillers were introduced by pharmaceutical firms who were incentivized in various ways to continue to prescribe them.

Over this time, more and more people have become dependent or addicted to opiate drugs including prescription drugs and heroin, with estimates that there are almost 1 million Americans struggling with the substance.

More concerning is the fact that over 65,000 Americans die every year as a result of an opiate overdose and many of those deaths caused by heroin may have been using the drug for the first time.

Understanding the Connection Between Opioids and Addiction

Opioid medications create an analgesic effect by affecting the part of the brain responsible for pain and pleasure perception, effectively diminishing pain and increasing pleasure. However, the same neurotransmitters affected by opiate use can also cause respiratory depression which is associated with opioid overdose.

However, it is more the learned behavior of taking prescription opioids to relieve pain that makes users vulnerable to opiate addiction. An individual taking prescription opiates for a prolonged period of time strengthen these learned associations, which can often lead to them to experience cravings. A conditioned urge for pain relief can also lead to early opiate abuse outside of an individual’s prescription schedule.

There is a high risk of physical dependence with opioid-based drugs, particularly as withdrawal rapidly emerges after a person stops using. For this reason, it is always recommended that people seeking help with opiate abuse attend specialist detox and rehab so they will be supervised by therapists and clinicians throughout the process.

The potent addictive quality of opiates makes it a complex substance to treat in terms of dependence and addiction. The opiate abuse crisis in America is a relatively new phenomenon although rehab centers have extensive experience of heroin addiction which has very similar characteristics. There is plenty of opiate addiction help available including holistic therapies, conventional treatments, and counseling which can be combined in a personalized program for each individual in rehab.

Holistic Therapies Offering Alternatives to Pain Management

More people are turning to holistic therapies as an alternative to pain management that carries no risk of developing dependence or addiction. Many rehab centers offer holistic therapies as part of a treatment program as they often prove invaluable as coping mechanisms in recovery. Finding natural ways to reduce chronic pain is particularly effective over the long term, as there are no harmful side effects or threats to a person’s health. The holistic approach focuses on the person as a whole in terms of mind, body and spirit and ancient practices are now widely used both within an addiction context.


Aromatherapy works to reduce chronic pain by stimulating the senses of smell, using essential plant oils that are either inhaled, applied to the skin or used as a vapor to fill a room with scent. This is a very ancient therapeutic approach that originates from Chinese, Indian, Roman, Egyptian and Greek cultures and today, it is used to treat a wide variety of conditions. Aromatherapy is very effective in reducing painful symptoms and studies have shown the practice to decrease symptoms of painful rheumatoid arthritis or migraine headaches, amongst other chronic pain conditions.

Massage Therapy

Massage is commonly used in the sporting world to treat injury and pain and most of us are familiar with just how great it makes you feel. However, there is more to this therapeutic touch than inducing relaxation as therapists also manipulate the body’s soft tissue to improve circulation and also the lymphatic system which is partially responsible for immunity. A recent review was carried out after months of trials which showed that massage therapy is particularly beneficial for people suffering from chronic back pain.

Deep Breathing Exercises and Meditation

When a person is suffering from chronic pain, it can be very difficult to shift their focus to the part of their body radiating their agony. Part of the way opiate-based drugs work to lessen pain is by distracting the brain with euphoria. This negative addictive behavior can be emulated naturally through a holistic practice such as meditation. Meditation is a type of deep breathing exercise that induces a strong sense of relaxation that participants can learn to use when their pain is overwhelming. This practice involves progressively relaxing all the muscles in the body, generally guided by a specialist meditation therapist. The main objective is to enable people to find a solution to chronic pain they can practice on their own.