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What Are the Risks of Using Alcohol for Pain Relief?

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Alcohol has been used for pain relief for ages. It is even believed to be one of the oldest drugs in the world. The belief is further propagated by the entertainment media. 

How many times have you seen people in the movies undergoing a surgical operation with no anesthesia except a swig on a bottle of whisky or rum?

Medical studies have also shown that alcohol can indeed produce pain-relieving effects in humans. Alcohol slows down the brain and depresses the central nervous system to provide an amount of relief from pain. This is why many people who experience chronic pain may turn to alcohol for comfort.

However, using alcohol for pain relief poses a number of risks and harmful consequences. Consumption of alcohol to relieve pain can lead to harmful consequences such as addiction and dependence as well as negative interactions with medications, which can cause more pain and other health problems. 

The Connection Between Chronic Pain and Alcohol Use 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines chronic pain as any form of pain that lasts more than 12 weeks. Chronic pain can also last months or even years. 

There are many types of chronic pain including:

  • Musculoskeletal injury
  • Dysfunctional nervous system
  • Pain due to autoimmune disorders like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease
  • Chronic diseases such as cancer

Chronic pain can cause disability and even dependence on alcohol and opioids. It is also responsible for other negative consequences such as depression, anxiety, and reduced quality of life. 

Chronic pain is usually controlled by medication and other therapies such as acupuncture, electrical stimulation, and cognitive behavioral therapy. but there are many people who turn to alcohol for short-term relief. 

Statistics by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) show that over 28% of people suffering from chronic pain in the United States use alcohol for relief. 

The biggest problem with alcohol is that it does not provide long-term pain management which means you have to use it constantly and expose yourself to the many health risks associated with excessive consumption of alcohol. 

The Danger of Using Alcohol for Pain Relief 

Here are some of the many risks of using alcohol for pain relief: 

  • It Makes You Build Higher Tolerance Levels 

Alcohol is often misconceived as an effective painkiller but in reality, it causes more harm than good. Alcohol does not directly address the cause of the pain but only numbs the nervous system. 

While alcohol blunts pain in the short-term, excessive alcohol consumption can present substantial risks to long-term health (such as cancer and life-threatening liver conditions) and provides an increased risk for developing future chronic pain conditions. The amount of alcohol necessary to relieve severe pain typically far exceeds the recommended guidelines for safe alcohol consumption, and alcohol does not mix well with other forms of pain-killing drugs, including over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen. 

When you regularly use alcohol as a pain management method, your body and brain will over time build tolerance resulting in people needing to drink higher amounts to achieve the same effect. Drinking higher amounts of alcohol will make you develop dependence and ultimately lead to addiction. 

  • Counter-Interaction with Medication

People with chronic pain usually take other prescribed medications such as Tylenol, Advil, or depressants for pain relief. Opioids may also be prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain, but can have serious risks and side effects, particularly when mixed with alcohol. While the dangers of mixing alcohol with these types of drugs are well-known and publicized, they are often overlooked, especially when an individual is in significant pain. 

Issues related to mixing pain medication and alcohol include drowsiness, memory problems, breathing problems, damage to stomach lining, damage to the liver, ulcers, and stomach bleeding. 

  • Long-Term Impact of Excessive Alcohol Consumption

Combining medications for chronic pain with alcohol is hazardous, but over time, excessive alcohol use on its own can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems. This includes, but is not limited to, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, digestive problems, cancer, weakening of the immune system, and mental health problems.

Encore Outpatient Services: Providing Holistic Treatment for Alcohol Dependence 

If you or your loved one is struggling with challenges caused by alcohol and substance use disorders, Encore Outpatient Services can help. We are a premier behavioral health and addiction treatment center located in Arlington County, VA. 

We focus on providing individualized care for adults of all ages. Our goal is to lay the foundation for long-term recovery and complete healing. 

Feel free to visit our website at to learn more about our programs and services.

Contact us today to find out how we can help you or a loved one facing alcohol-related challenges.

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