Alcohol Use Common Among Chronic Pain Patients

October 6, 2009

Professionals should educate and monitor their pain patients' use of alcohol according to a University of Florida study which found that use of alcohol as a pain management strategy was consistent across the three patient groups, ranging from 25 to 28 percent. Use was more prevalent in men and corresponded to higher income levels.

Clinicians treating patients with chronic pain must assess their alcohol use and, if necessary, provide counseling regarding problems associated with mixing alcohol and pain medications, according to a study published in The Journal of Pain, the peer review publication of the American Pain Society.

Researchers from the University of Florida College of Dentistry examined use of alcohol to relieve pain in more than 4,000 adults with tooth pain, jaw or face pain and arthritis. Previous studies have shown that adverse reactions occur when alcohol is mixed with prescription pain medications, especially gastrointestinal disorders and liver problems. Also, studies show alcohol is used often to manage stress, and chronic pain is considered a significant stressor.

The purpose of the study was to document the prevalence of alcohol use for managing pain among community dwelling adults, learn demographic differences in the use of alcohol for pain, and evaluate if the impact of pain and social and economic factors is associated with using alcohol for pain. Study subjects were interviewed by telephone.

Results showed that use of alcohol as a pain management strategy was consistent across the three patient groups, ranging from 25 to 28 percent. Men more frequently used alcohol as a pain management strategy than women, and increased alcohol use corresponded to higher income levels, which the authors noted was an unexpected finding.

Also, alcohol was associated with the frequency of pain but not with intensity or chronicity. The authors attributed that finding to self medication with alcohol being related to regularity of pain symptoms. They concluded that when these patients self medicate with alcohol, clinicians may need to reevaluate current treatment protocols.

The findings highlight the need for health care professionals to educate and monitor their pain patients for toxicity levels and other adverse health outcomes related to alcohol use.