Pain Management Program Q&A

Pain Free Also Means Drug Free

How prevalent are the combined conditions of chronic pain and addiction?

In a word, very. It's fair to say that all people who abuse alcohol or other drugs experience chronic emotional pain. Chronic physical pain affects approximately 50 percent of alcoholics and addicts. Both conditions impact healthy brain function.

Are there known risk factors for chronic pain and addiction?

We see a common profile among our patients, and predisposing factors are similar for both conditions. Those factors include symptoms of depression or anxiety, high levels of stress, and a history of adverse events such as physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, or a serious accident. Additionally, people who suffer from chronic pain and addiction often have what we call a "catastrophizing" mindset, meaning they believe if things can go wrong, they will go wrong.

What are some of the ways chronic pain affects people?

Individuals with chronic pain typically experience significant mood changes, lose the ability to remain calm, lack coping skills, are unable to sleep, and have trouble completing tasks due to attention issues. Other common conditions related to chronic pain include hopelessness,  memory loss, and an inability to plan. While all of these conditions are very treatable, people with chronic pain place most of their attention on the pain, the emotions attached to pain, and how to escape pain, and this approach—which often involves substance abuse—doesn't work.

Are there unique treatment challenges for individuals who suffer from both chronic pain and addiction?

Most pain management programs involve some type of drug therapy, which is obviously not a solution for individuals who suffer from both chronic pain and addiction. There's a growing body of evidence that, as a whole, drug therapies for pain management are largely ineffective—but that's another topic. At the Betty Ford Center, we've pioneered a drug-free treatment program for chronic pain that goes well beyond the traditional approach of symptom relief. Essentially, we help patients reshape and retrain the pain center of their brain. Our approach is based on the fact that chronic pain is a disease of the brain and, given an optimal environment, the brain retains its ability to heal and return to normal function.

How does that healing process take place?

As you can imagine, people who use alcohol and other drugs to cope with chronic pain enter our treatment program in a state of chronic stress. We help them relearn how to focus their attention and how to de-stress through internal and external qigong, acupuncture, and mindfulness practices. When the mind is relaxed—and this is key to our treatment approach—it will go to a place of healing. By following these disciplines and practices, patients learn to slow down their mind, control their thoughts, and gain a sense of presence. Pain steals this ability from people. So, rather than focusing on the physical cause of pain, our pain management program is based on neurocognitive enhancement—reshaping how the brain reacts to pain.

What advice do you have for individuals with chronic pain who suffer from addiction as well?

You do not need drugs to manage your pain. Our integrated treatment approach is safe and effective. Patients who complete our program tell us they literally feel reborn. They find a freedom they never thought possible. Reach out for help. We're here for you.


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