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Chronic Pain and Substance Abuse in Older Adults

Jan 12, 2024

Chronic pain often takes a back seat in our fast-paced lives, but the consequences can be disastrous. Recognizing the potential dangers of unchecked chronic pain can help you avoid unnecessary threats to your health and well-being. In this blog post, we’ll look at how untreated pain can inadvertently lead people into the perilous territory of substance use disorders, emphasizing the importance of early intervention.

As you seek relief from your chronic pain, keep in mind that unsafe alternatives can lead to a vicious cycle of substance misuse and abuse. Neglecting proper pain management not only worsens physical discomfort but also increases the risk of addiction and related health problems. This situation can be especially difficult for older people. Hanley Center provides a lifeline by offering tailored programs that address both chronic pain and substance use disorders. Older adults can find lasting relief, improved well-being, and hope for a healthier future by focusing on holistic care, therapy, and support.

If you or a loved one need help, call our admissions team today at 561-841-1033.

How Common Is Chronic Pain?

According to data from the United States’ Department of Health & Human Services National Institutes of Health, approximately 25.3 million American adults (11.2% of the population) experienced daily chronic pain in the previous three months. Chronic pain can be associated with a variety of illnesses, including arthritis, lower back pain, and neuropathy, and the prevalence of each ailment varies. Chronic pain tends to worsen with age, with older persons being more prone to it. Women are also more likely than men to experience persistent pain. Chronic pain can have a substantial influence on a person’s quality of life, impacting their ability to work, perform everyday activities, and engage in social and recreational activities.

Pain Management Challenges among Older Adults

Because of age-related changes, the prevalence of chronic medical diseases, and the potential for the use of numerous drugs, pain management can be a substantial difficulty for persons over the age of 50. People’s bodies alter physiologically as they age, such as a decrease in muscular mass, bone density, and skin suppleness. These changes can make people more prone to injury and suffering. Chronic medical disorders such as arthritis, osteoporosis, and heart disease are more common in older persons and can be connected with chronic pain. Pain management in the presence of these diseases might be complex. Multiple drugs may be taken by older persons to treat various health concerns. The interactions between these medications can be complicated, and some medications might worsen or contribute to pain. Some older adults may develop cognitive impairment, making it more difficult to manage medications, visits, and treatment programs successfully.

Mobility concerns and impairments can make it difficult for older persons to participate in physical therapy or exercise, both of which can be beneficial in pain management. Loneliness and social isolation are also common, and they can contribute to emotional and psychological distress. Some older adults may be hesitant to take pain relievers due to worries about potential side effects or a history of unpleasant responses. Transportation, financial restraints, and a lack of access to healthcare providers can all be impediments to receiving adequate pain management. Older adults may also be more prone to sadness and anxiety, which can aggravate pain.

Unmanaged Chronic Pain Can Lead to Substance Misuse

Unmanaged chronic pain can cause a range of problems, and people may turn to prescription medication, legal substances, or illegal substances to cope with their pain or the concerns that come with it. Here are ten ways that uncontrolled chronic pain can lead to substance abuse or misuse.

1. Prescription Medication Dependence: When pain is not effectively managed, you may become increasingly dependent on prescription pain medications, potentially leading to dependence or addiction.
2. Self-Medication: To manage pain, you may self-medicate with over-the-counter pain relievers or other legal substances, such as alcohol, which can lead to misuse or dependence.
3. Medication Dosage Escalation: In the absence of adequate pain management, you may increase the dosage of your prescription medication to achieve the desired pain relief, increasing the risk of misuse.
4. Seeking Stronger Medications: If your chronic pain is unmanaged, you may seek stronger, more potent prescription medications.
5. Alcohol/Substance Abuse: To cope with the emotional impact of chronic pain, you may turn to alcohol or other substances.
6. Polypharmacy: Managing multiple health conditions as well as unmanaged pain may result in polypharmacy, in which you take multiple medications at the same time. This raises the possibility of drug interactions and substance abuse.
7. Use of Illegal Substances: When you are unable to obtain or afford prescription medications, you may resort to using illegal drugs, such as opioids, to manage pain.
8. Risk-Taking Behavior: Chronic pain can reduce your quality of life, leading to risky behaviors such as reckless substance use to alleviate your suffering.
9. Mental Health Issues: Unmanaged chronic pain can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, which may lead to self-medication or substance abuse as a form of self-soothing.
10. Social Isolation: Chronic pain can lead to social isolation and a lower quality of life, which may contribute to substance abuse as a coping mechanism for feelings of loneliness and despair.

Hanley Center Provides Help for Older Adults with Chronic Pain and Substance Abuse

Hanley Center understands the unique challenges faced by older adults grappling with unmanaged chronic pain and self-medication with substances. Our age-specific specialized programs offer a comprehensive approach, integrating evidence-based pain management with substance use disorder treatment. Through individualized care, therapy, and support, we address the root causes of self-medication, providing a path to healing, recovery, and a better quality of life for older adults seeking to break free from this cycle.


Hanley Center is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for mental illnesses and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting wellness. For information on our programs, call us today: 561-841-1033.

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