Alcohol for chronic pain?

Patients with chronic widespread pain (CWP) who consume moderate amounts of alcohol have lower levels of disability, according to a large new population-based study from the United Kingdom…

A smaller U.S. study previously showed that in patients with fibromyalgia, moderate alcohol consumption was associated with reduced symptom severity and increased quality of life. However, the current study also linked alcohol consumption with the likelihood of reporting CWP. The new study was published in Arthritis Care & Research…

Authors of the previous study discussed possible mechanisms linking alcohol consumption with reduced disability. One is that ethanol enhances GABA release in the brain…

Well, this is great news.  Alcohol is a fairly cheap drug.  I should learn how to like the taste of alcohol — think pina colada.

I wonder, though, what is the risk of abuse and addiction with alcohol?  The risk of toxic levels of ethanol, overdose, and death? The risk of suicide? Brittle bone disease and Alzheimer’s? How many of these patients drank too much and then got behind the wheel of a car? Were involved with domestic violence?

How many of these pain patients also suffered from depression and, by drinking alcohol, increased their depressive symptoms?  How many suffered from new symptoms of depression? How many patients mixed prescription drugs with alcohol?

Doctors advocating for alcohol to treat chronic pain?  Okay, now I’ve seen it all.  There’s no doubt that alcohol is used for self-medication, especially by poor people, but usually they aren’t just suffering from chronic pain.  Many times, alcohol use comes with some type of mental illness, like addiction or anxiety, whether it’s mild or severe. Is alcohol the best treatment for anxiety?  Maybe it’s better than Xanax?

I’m not against the use of alcohol, or any drug that helps treat a medical condition.  But patients should be informed of all their choices, and the risks that come with each.  Why would a pain patient choose a drink over Vicodin or bud?  Lack of access and cost, but also, people’s brains are wired differently.  Some people are sensitive or allergic to opioids, just like alcohol.

I really wish I could treat my pain with alcohol.  It would make things a lot easier.  But I don’t think Medicare or Social Security would be okay with me using alcohol to treat chronic pain, even if I wanted to.

In the old days, lots of people used alcohol to treat pain.  Then, new drugs were developed, synthesized, and created by Big Pharma, and they didn’t come with the stigma of alcohol. But which products are better to treat pain?  We’d have to break that question down into the best drugs to treat the different kinds of pain, and whether the drugs would be used over a short or long period of time.  Which drugs cause the least short- and long-term damage?

If you break your foot and use a drink or two to dull the pain instead of taking a Vicodin, I don’t see anything wrong with that.  If you eat a pot brownie to do the same, there’s nothing wrong with that either.  Some people will pop a couple of aspirin for a broken bone and that will work just fine.  Some people will be able to sleep through the worst of the pain episodes.  (Lucky folks.)

The reality is that people use multiple drugs, both legal and illegal, to dull their pain — because many times, one drug is just not strong enough.  It’s always a battle between the level of pain and the strength of treatments (and resulting side effects).  When the pain increases, will one more drink help?  One more pill, one more hit?

How do you effectively treat pain that is constant?  If you can figure that out, you’ll be rich. 🙂

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