Opioids Could Make Chronic Pain Worse: What This Means for Weighing Addiction Risks

Doctors worldwide readily dole out opioid painkiller prescriptions as a cure for post-op and chronic pain – largely contributing to today’s opioid epidemic. But as it turns out, these meds could actually be prolonging patients’ pain. Let’s find out why.

Opioids Could Make Chronic Pain Worse

Sharelines

  • New study shows opiod painkillers may prolong chronic pain by affecting the brain’s glial cells.
  • New study shows #opiod painkillers may prolong chronic pain by affecting the brain’s glial cells.
Despite their addictive properties and potentially dangerous side effects, health care practitioners have been using opioids to treat chronic pain for decades – the prevalence of which has led to the opioid addiction epidemic we see today. Considered one of the most common and debilitating medical conditions a person can experience, chronic pain is widespread – and opioid painkillers are the most common way of managing and repressing its symptoms. But new research suggests that method of treatment may be flawed. According to a recent study by the Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, opioids may actually be prolonging the pain people experience after surgery or from chronic conditions. Even taking opioids for just a few days to help manage pain can lead to exacerbated and prolonged symptoms.

Opioids Prolong Pain by Affecting the Brain’s Glial Cells

During the study, test subjects who received morphine experienced postoperative pain three weeks longer than those who received no painkiller. This is attributed to the brain’s glial cells, which control your inflammatory response. When they receive what researchers call a one-two hit – the first being surgery; the second being morphine – they produce an exaggerated response, because they’re primed for the second one. Says senior author on the study, Prof. Linda Watkins, “With that second hit, the primed glial cells respond faster, stronger, and longer than before, creating a much more enduring state of inflammation and sometimes local tissue damage.” In short, not only do opioid prescriptions involve a highly dangerous addiction risk; they’re actually worsening the problem they’re intended to solve. Numbing Your Pain with Rx Drugs?

How Opioid Prescriptions Lead to Addiction

For centuries, opioids have been prescribed to patients after surgery or for chronic pain because they contain chemical properties that help relax the body and relieve the effects of pain. While typically used to treat more moderate to extreme cases of pain, it’s not entirely uncommon for opioids to be prescribed for minor ailments like coughing or diarrhoea. Among the most common prescription opioids are: hydrocodone, morphine, codeine and fentanyl. Whether they offer a long-term solution to pain or not, opioids present a much more serious risk to the millions of people every year who are prescribed them: addiction. Today, opioids are the leading cause of drug-related fatalities in the United States, accounting for more than 20,000 deaths every year. The relaxation and temporary pain relief offered by opiates generally occur as a result of the dopamine and endorphins triggered by the drug. Dopamine is often referred to as the ‘feel-good’ chemical because it elicits a sense of euphoria and affects both mood and memory. Only two main areas of the brain produce dopamine, and opioids act by shutting of the neurons that control its production. Users experience feeling of happiness and pleasure as a result of the flood of dopamine produced by opioids, which is what makes them so extremely addictive. Because your brain adapts to the new, higher levels of dopamine, you’ll need to take more of the drug in order to create the same sensations of pleasure or relaxation. The same is true for the way opioids are used to manage pain. The same dosage taken over a prolonged period of time will feel less and less effective to the person consuming it.

The Dangers of Opioid Dependency

Despite being used by medical practitioners to treat symptoms of pain, opioids present both short- and long-term health risks. While they may offer temporary relief from the pain or anxiety you experience, those positive feelings are ultimately short-lived and lead to serious mental and physical concerns. Here are just a few of the most common effects of opioid misuse that you might experience over time:
  • A weakened immune system
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Reduced breathing rate (which causes fatal overdose)
  • Drowsiness or ‘nodding off’
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
Even though opioids may only be prescribed for a short period of time, increased tolerance often leads people to seek out additional prescriptions or other non-prescription opioids after their prescription has run out. This behaviour can quickly spiral into an addiction – and is why in many cases, heroin addiction in fact begins with an opioid prescription. Because of the way opioids ‘rewire’ your brain’s pleasure centres, you may feel compelled to keep using the drug even when consequences – health or otherwise – begin to arise. Because opioids are so physically addictive, they can cause severe withdrawal symptoms that are highly uncomfortable, making it difficult for users to quit. These include:
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Tremors
Perhaps one of the most insidious aspects of opioid use, even a minor dependence can lead to these extreme withdrawal effects. Get Help Now

The Cabin Has the Professional Help You Need to Beat Opioid Addiction

No matter how long you’ve been using opioids, or how minor (or severe) that dependency has become, we know the symptoms of withdrawal can make overcoming addiction one of the hardest battles you’ll ever face. That’s why we’ve assembled a highly talented team of addiction experts to give you the highest quality treatment possible. For many people, the dangers of opioid addiction can’t be faced alone. At the Cabin Chiang Mai, our focus is on providing you the best environment and resources for your recovery joinery. The Cabin offers cutting-edge addiction treatment administered by widely recognised, licensed professionals to help guide your care every step of the way. We know the recovery process isn’t just a physical process – your treatment takes place in a lush mountain oasis that provides an environment conducive to your healing on mental, emotional and spiritual levels. The best news? It’s more accessible and affordable than you might think. Don’t get overwhelmed by the array of options and expensive treatments out there – let the Cabin Chiang Mai help you live the life you deserve. Contact us today to learn more.