Is Your Brain Addicted To Pain?
63 million: That’s how many people in the U.S suffer from chronic pain. Based on reports from the National Academy of Sciences, this group makes up one fifth of our nation’s population.
Chronic pain is also the number one cause of disability in the United States. It costs our healthcare system more than $600 billion each year.
And…we may be addicted to it.
Linking Pain with Addiction
Just last year, researchers made a significant breakthrough in the quest to understand how pain affects the brain and the potential treatment of the human pain cycle. The study, conducted by Northwestern Medicine, reveals the area of the brain that controls feelings – like happiness and sadness – is changed by chronic pain. The part of the brain that is responsible for negative emotions is kicked into high gear, linking up with other parts of the brain within days of an injury. This change also causes a drop in dopamine, one of our body’s natural “feel good” chemicals.
Chronic pain eventually rewires parts of the brain, including the circuits related to addiction. The result is, essentially, the brain gets addicted to pain. The connections formed turn chronic pain into a physical and emotional issue.
Luckily, researchers believe they have discovered a method to recondition or repair this neurological region so that it’s no longer altered by the presence of chronic pain. If successful, the cycle of chronic pain could potentially be stopped.
Rewiring the Pain
The method discovered involves a combination treatment that consists of two drugs. L-dopa (a Parkinson’s drug) and a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug work together to target the brain circuits associated with chronic pain. In practice, this treatment successfully reversed the changes in the brain and completely eliminated chronic pain behaviors in rodents.
Providing the drugs together – and shortly after an injury is sustained – is vital to the success of this treatment.
Currently, the available treatment methods for chronic pain are very limited. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories are the most commonly used method of pain control. And while some provide relief, they do nothing to alleviate pain addiction within the brain. As a result, you’re left with chronic pain behaviors and persistent pain.
Researchers plan to continue with similar studies, specifically hoping to discover whether or not this combination is effective in humans. And for the one-fifth of Americans suffering from chronic pain each and every day, science can’t solve this mystery soon enough.
Additional Reading: Is the Antidote for Addiction Closer Than We Think?
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