Potential Drug-Free Treatment for Pain Discovered

Behavioral therapy and social support could decrease pain levels experienced by patients.

A combination of behavioral therapy and social support could be an alternative therapy for patients who have chronic pain, but also have addiction issues, a recent study found.

Patients trying to overcome addiction cannot receive pain treatment due to the addiction risk; thus, these patients cannot receive traditional treatments.

“Past studies of psychosocial approaches for pain have often excluded people with drug or alcohol problems, addiction treatment programs do not usually have providers trained in pain care, and many pain specialists will not treat people who also have addiction,” said study lead author Mark Ilgen, PhD. “So patients are caught in the middle.”

Researchers believe that a treatment that revolves around the psychological theories of pain could potentially help address the opioid epidemic, according to a study published by Addiction. Included in the study were 129 patients receiving outpatient treatment for addiction.

The approach, called Improving Pain during Addiction Treatment (ImPAT), includes 10 weekly sessions of treatment, and approximately half of the patients were assigned to this therapy. The other patients attended support groups led by a therapist.

In the study, researchers found that veterans who were assigned to ImPAT and who were treated for addiction showed a decreased amount of pain compared with veterans attending support group meetings. Patients receiving ImPAT also had increased function and decreased alcohol use, according to the study.

However, researchers also noted the 2 groups had similar drug usage. They also found the effect of the treatment lasted for up to 1 year.

Researchers believe that ImPAT could potentially be used worldwide and would be inexpensive and effective. ImPAT uses a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy with acceptance and commitment therapy, according to the study.

These approaches used together helps patients focus on parts of their life other than pain. In the therapy, patients learn ways to adapt to, and distract themselves from, their pain. They also learn ways to function despite their pain.

“We want to take the focus off pain and put it onto functioning, and finding pleasurable ways to spend time,” Dr Ilgen said. “There's also a strong link between depression and pain. Pain is responsive to mood, and mood is responsive to social support.”

The researchers created a follow-up study that includes 480 non-veteran patients who are in an addiction treatment program.

“These results highlight the need for addiction treatment programs to offer a multifaceted approach that doesn't only address substance use but also the other factors that might be driving substance use, including pain,” Dr Ilgen concluded. “We've shown that it's possible to improve pain outcomes in people with addiction, and even have some spillover effects on their substance use.”