What we want you to know about alcohol and chronic pain

April 2, 2019

In our society, there is a fairly common belief that chronic pain can be alleviated or self-medicated with alcohol. This is a dangerous assumption that we want to help put to rest in this blog post.

A study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that 28% of individuals who battle chronic pain turn to alcohol in hopes of relieving their discomfort, whether it is from acute pain associated with an abscessed tooth or chronic pain that has resulted from an injury or arthritis.

The dangers of self-medicating with alcohol

Some people find alcohol appealing to help their pain because it’s fairly inexpensive and convenient to purchase. They see it as cheap, hassle-free relief from chronic pain. But here is the huge problem with this line of thought:

Chronic pain is defined as pain lasting for more than three months. It’s long-lasting and doesn’t necessarily go away in time, and pain can become more severe over time. If someone self-medicates with alcohol, this person will likely feel the need to continue using it for an extended period of time. They will also most likely feel the need to use more and more alcohol as that pain increases. This cycle can quickly progress down the slippery slope toward alcoholism.

Another huge problem that many people don’t realize is that drinking alcohol chronically can actually make pain more severe. Excessive use of alcohol can cause a small fiber peripheral neuropathy that can cause increased sensations of pain. Alcohol exacerbates this condition.

As people self-medicate with alcohol, they also may take over-the-counter or prescription medications, which is extremely dangerous. Many of these carry warnings not to take the medication with alcohol. Alcohol can interact badly with many medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol). Combining these two  raises the risk of potentially deadly liver failure. Drinking alcohol while taking aspirin increases the risk for gastric bleeding.

The combination of alcohol and opioid painkillers can be deadly as well. Alcohol increases the risk of serious respiratory depression with opioids. These risks are higher in older people.

Dealing with chronic pain without alcohol

The solution to avoiding these problems is simple. Do not use alcohol to self-medicate for any chronic pain you may experience. The real connection between chronic pain and alcohol is that is often results in alcohol abuse.

But the next question becomes: how are people supposed to deal with chronic pain? Effective long-term pain relief requires the help of physicians, such as those at Southside Pain Specialists. Often, having the help of behavioral health specialists is very beneficial as well.

Recent publications in the medical community show that mindfulness meditation can be developed over time to provide long-term relief from chronic pain. These techniques have shown to be effective in the treatment of chronic pain without the sufferer having to consume any substances. Gentle exercise, physical therapy, and yoga are other promising at home treatments that can be helpful.

Each individual will require a custom approach, which is why it’s so important to see a doctor who is trained in pain management. We can come up with a safe plan with multiple approaches to help you feel like you are taking control of your pain rather than feeling the need to medicate with alcohol, potentially causing you to spiral out of control.

Southside Pain Specialists is your one-stop shop for pain management

With a multitude of pain relief options tailored to your specific needs, Southside Pain Specialists follow the standards of the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, The American Board of Pain Medicine, and the International Spinal Injection Society. We work hard to provide patients comprehensive, caring pain relief when they need it most. Check out our website or contact us today at 205.332.3155 to learn more.