Pain relief is a common and important concern for those people who experience pain, regardless of whether it's chronic or acute. However, many patients have the additional worry that managing their pain will cause addiction to the medication that is helping them. Recent studies show that five to 17 percent of the American population is or has been addicted to drugs and alcohol. At some point in these addicts' lives, they will likely need to manage pain.

Types of Pain

When patients consult with their physicians, physicians will determine which type of pain the patients suffer from.

  • Chronic pain is constant or long-lasting pain. Chronic pain may be caused by an injury that happened quite some time ago and is technically “healed."
  • Acute pain is sudden and sharp. It is generally a consequence of a particular, recent injury.
  • End of life pain is usually the result of a terminal illness. This pain will not end until the patient's death.

Whether the patient is an addict, a recovering addict, or simply concerned about becoming addicted to her pain medication, the patient and the physician must work together to manage the pain safely.

Available Methods of Pain Management

There are four major types of pain management that physicians use to control the patient's comfort level.

  • Physical treatment:

Physical interventions or treatment include the application of heat and cold, the use of massage and exercise to strengthen muscles and joints, and the use of splints, braces, or casts to stabilize joints and bones. No risk of addiction occurs with this treatment method.

  • Anesthesia:

Anesthesia is usually used to provide localized pain relief. Patients who suffer from pancreatitis, cancer pain, and kidney stones might be treated with anesthesia. Usually the local anesthesia is a steroid injection. The risk of addiction is low.

  • Psychological treatment:

Psychological treatment such as meditation, relaxation exercises, and counseling can be used to treat physical pain. No risk of addiction occurs with this treatment method.

  • Systemic medication:

Systemic medication is the use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs to treat acute, chronic, and end-of-life pain. Systemic medication presents the highest risk of addiction.

Treating Addicts and Preventing Addiction

Physicians should be familiar with addiction and their patients' medical histories. If non-addictive treatments don't work, pain medication is often needed. When prescribing potentially addictive medication, physicians can take steps to ensure that their patients do not get hooked onto their prescriptions, especially when trying to relieve acute pain symptoms.

  • Physicians should ensure that they are the only doctor prescribing pain medication to their patient.
  • Physicians should use the lowest possible dose to maintain pain relief.
  • Physicians should occasionally “wean" the patient from the medicine to reassess pain levels.
  • Physicians should prescribe non-psychotropic drugs if at all possible.

Special considerations must be considered when treating end-of-life pain. Medical agencies argue that regardless of addiction history, doctors should do everything they can to ensure that patients are as comfortable as possible. Family members should work with the attending physician to ensure that patients live and die with dignity.