The Link Between Alcohol Addiction And Chronic Pain

Recent research outlines how alcohol abuse can make people more sensitive to pain through alcohol intake and withdrawal. These findings may lead to new ways of treating chronic pain caused by alcohol addiction.

Alcohol Addiction And Chronic Pain

According to data cited by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), as many as 28% of people with chronic pain turn to alcohol to relieve their symptoms.

Scientists have found that the underlying causes of many chronic pain conditions are exacerbated by continued alcohol consumption.

Addiction treatment services such as detoxification, behavioral therapy, and 12-step programs can help people battling alcohol use disorder (AUD) achieve long-term recovery.

How Alcohol Abuse Affects Chronic Pain

A study published by the British Journal of Pharmacology has shown how AUD affects the way the brain interprets pain signals.

Scientists studied this by comparing three groups of mice who were given varying levels of alcohol.

Mice that were alcohol-dependent developed chronic pain conditions during alcohol withdrawal, and continued access to alcohol led to decreased pain sensitivity.

The researchers found that inflammation-related proteins were elevated in all the groups of mice, but some specific proteins were increased only in the alcohol-dependent group.

Further research on these proteins may lead to drugs that can effectively treat alcohol-related pain conditions.

Types Of Alcohol-Related Chronic Pain Conditions

Over time, alcohol abuse can lead to chronic pain, as approximately half of people with AUD have reported that they experience some form of persistent pain. 

There are some chronic pain conditions that are directly related to prolonged alcohol abuse. 

Alcoholic Neuropathy

One of the most common pain-related effects of AUD is alcohol-induced neuropathy. This disorder is caused by excessive alcohol use that causes peripheral nerve damage.

The damage from alcoholic neuropathy can limit the function of nerves in the feet and hands, and, in severe cases, can lead to permanent loss of function. 

Symptoms of alcohol neuropathy include muscle weakness, pain and tingling in the limbs, decreased sensation, difficulty balancing, and muscle spasms.  


Allodynia is defined as pain caused by a stimulus that does not normally provoke pain such as cold temperatures, hair brushing, or even wearing certain types of clothing. 

Research on mice has shown that alcohol-dependent rodents commonly developed allodynia during alcohol withdrawal. 

Risks Of Using Alcohol To Relieve Pain

One of the most troubling aspects of the relationship between AUD and chronic pain is how people can worsen their pain symptoms through continued alcohol abuse. 

Below are some of the dangers of using alcohol to address chronic pain. 

Mixing Alcohol And Pain Medicines Is Dangerous

Over-the-counter pain-relieving drugs such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin are not meant to be mixed with alcohol. 

Mixing pain medication and alcohol may cause acute liver or kidney failure, stomach bleeding, and death. 

Polysubstance Abuse

Some people may mix alcohol with other drugs, such as opioids, in an attempt to relieve chronic pain. Misusing two or more drugs to increase their potency is known as polysubstance abuse. 

Due to the way alcohol increases the sedative effects of opiates, people who engage in polysubstance abuse are at high risk of developing dependency and experiencing overdose. 

Chronic Drinking Makes Pain Worse

Drinking alcohol in excess may momentarily relieve pain, but long-term misuse may lead to neuropathy, which only makes the pain worse. 

Additionally, people withdrawing from alcohol often experience increased pain sensitivity, which may motivate continued drinking to reverse painful withdrawal symptoms.  

Alcohol Tolerance

Due to the way alcohol affects the brain, tolerance to alcohol’s analgesic effects will eventually develop, pushing the person to drink more to achieve the same effect.

Increasing alcohol intake may lead to other health-related problems, including alcohol dependence. 

Other Health Risks Of Alcohol Abuse

Prolonged alcohol misuse may lead to permanent nerve and brain damage as well as an array of life-threatening health issues.

Health risks of heavy drinking may include:

  • heart disease
  • anemia
  • liver, intestinal, mouth, and breast cancer
  • seizures
  • sleep disturbances
  • fatty liver disease and cirrhosis

Treatment Options For Alcohol Use Disorder

If you or a loved one are battling an alcohol addiction, help is available in the form of evidence-based treatment services.

Effective treatments for alcohol dependence include:

Find Substance Use Disorder Treatment Today

Reach out to today for more information on addiction treatment programs. 

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