Chronic pain is a complex medical condition affecting many people, and it involves recurring pain lasting longer than three months. The leading causes are usually an illness or an injury.

The pain can impact an individual’s physical and mental well-being, reducing their ability to conduct their daily activities. Health providers prescribe opioids to manage the pain. However, prolonged use can lead to opioid use disorder.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are powerful pain medications that block pain signals to the brain. They include drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and heroin (illegal). They are effective in treating moderate and severe pains. Doctors and other health providers commonly prescribe them to treat chronic pain in arthritis, fibromyalgia, and back pains. 

Opioids are highly addictive; long-term use often leads to opioid use disorder (OUD) in the form of tolerance and dependence. Individuals who try to discontinue the medication after a prolonged use experience withdrawal symptoms. 

What is Opioid Use Disorder?

OUD is a chronic medical condition resulting from prolonged or high dosages of opioids leading to adverse health outcomes.  Long-term use leads to physical and psychological dependency, making quitting challenging.

OUD is a severe and potentially life-threatening condition. The main symptoms include cravings  and an inability to control drug use. Individuals experience withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, insomnia, and muscle aches when not using.

It is essential to get treatment as OUD can lead to serious health complications, including overdose and death. They can also lead to financial difficulties and social issues among users. The standard methods of dealing with the condition involve medical-assisted therapy, counseling, and support groups. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), an estimated 10.3 million Americans misused opioids in 2019, with 1.6 million experiencing OUD. In 2020, an estimated 69,710 deaths in the United States involved opioids, with prescription opioids accounting for 38%.

Genetics also influence the risk of developing OUD. Studies have shown that certain genetic variations can increase a person’s risk. You should practice caution when using opioids or avoid them entirely if your family has an addiction problem. 

What is the Link Between Chronic Pain and OUD?

The link between chronic pain and OUD is complex; many factors contribute to the condition’s development in patients with chronic pain. Some of them include the severity of pain, the duration of opioid use, genetics, and psychological factors.

Some people acquire the drugs illegally, but patients with chronic pain who have opioid prescriptions are at a higher risk of developing OUD. In addition, prolonged consumption or consuming opioids in high doses may likely develop the disorder.

Healthcare providers should provide a multimodal approach to pain management, combining multiple therapies to address pain from different angles. They should also educate you on the risks and potential side effects of opioids if they are your only option.

How to Cope With Chronic Pain and OUD

Opioids can be effective for pain management, but they come with a high risk of developing a dependency. You should use alternative methods to deal with chronic pain if possible. However, if opioids are the only option, be cautious and seek immediate help if you discover you are developing OUD.