Patients suffering from chronic pain and simultaneously dealing with addiction problems may soon have a way to alleviate their suffering.

Scientists report discovering a new, non-drug, psychosocial approach to dealing with chronic pain without resorting to medication. Study findings on the new technique have been published in the journal Addiction.

The new approach, called Improving Pain during Addiction Treatment (ImPAT) combines cognitive behavioral therapy and acceptance-based methods to help the patient live with and distract themselves from the pain without the use of addictive drugs.

Chronic pain is a condition characterised by sensations of pain that persist for extended periods of time. Physiologically, neurons are perpetually firing pain signals which result in general discomfort, headaches, arthritis, lower back pain, and pain in most parts of the body.

Some cases of chronic pain can be caused by initial injuries like sprains and infection while others are because of ongoing illnesses like arthritis and cancer. However, some cases of chronic pain arise without any apparent cause.

Currently, a conventional approach to deal with pain is through opioid painkillers. This, however, has its obvious health risks, most notably substance addiction.

As patients take more of these painkillers, they fall deeper into addiction which then gets in the way of their chronic pain treatment. Eventually, it turns into a cycle that is very difficult to break free from.

Thus, the current study attempts to disrupt this cycle by exploring non-drug options for treating chronic pain. In particular, they focused on cognitive behavioral treatment and acceptance-based therapy which have both previously, albeit separately, been shown to reduce pain.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a pragmatic approach to problems. It focuses on immediate solutions to pressing difficulties with the goal of eventually changing the way people approach challenges.

On the other hand, acceptance-based therapy, as its name suggests, focuses on helping the patients accept their pain as a way of coping and living with it to move forward and be more productive.

The researchers decided to use a combination of these two approaches to come up with ImPAT.

Essentially, ImPAT helps the patient distract themselves from the pain by asking them to focus on other, more important, and more productive things in life.

As this is going on, ImPAT also includes techniques that help patients come to terms with and adapt to their pain. Ultimately, the goal of ImPAT is to reduce the pain and re-allow the patients to live a productive life.

In its inaugural application, 129 war veterans, mostly male with an average age of 51.7 years old were involved. A control therapy was used as a point of reference.

The researchers found that compared to the control therapy, ImPAT was able to show significant reductions in pain and increases in functioning.
Further, the participants reported significantly less use of alcohol.

These findings underscore the efficacy of using a combination of therapy approaches in the non-drug approach to treating pain. It is especially important for patients who are also suffering from addiction problems.

Eventually, ImPAT could be a viable therapy option for those experiencing chronic pain but either do not want to risk substance addiction or are already experiencing addiction problems. MIMS