Chronic Pain, Addiction & the Coronavirus Crisis

Orly Pecker

We have all been affected by the coronavirus crisis and all of our routines have changed, but people who are dealing with chronic illness, in general, and chronic pain, in particular, are facing even greater difficulties.

Suddenly, pain that had gone away is recurring, pain that occurred on a daily basis is intensifying, and new pain may be appearing. A person who was used to having several hours alone at home each day now has to adjust to the constant presence of family members and the noise that comes with it. Children are home for far more hours and require a lot of attention and energy. If, a few weeks ago, a parent needed to conserve their energy in order to communicate and care for their children for a limited number of hours each day, now they need to be present for them around the clock.

The restrictions on movement and travel in the public sphere mean that exercise and bodywork that helped get the body moving are less available, including physical therapy, hydrotherapy, shiatsu, outside sports and fitness, and more. These were sources of empowerment for many people, and helped alleviate the burden of physical and mental pain. What will help now? Will the solution be painkillers and sedatives, such as Tramadex, Oxycodone, Clonax, cannabis or alcohol?

What can be done given the current restrictions affecting the body and mind?

The first people to turn to are the familiar sources of support: your physical therapist, family physician, fitness instructor, family member, regular therapist, or even a member of a group activity that you participate in who understands your current situation. Many service providers are currently working remotely and will be happy to help however they can.

In cases in which there has been an increase in the consumption of medication, painkillers or other substances, or an increase in potentially addictive behaviors (such as online gambling, shopping, or pornography), it is important to examine when and what is being consumed, and how does this differ from the usual consumption. Is there a link between your emotional state and the increase in use? Does watching the news raise your anxiety levels and cause you to turn to medication to alleviate stress? Has the reduction in physical activity increased your levels of pain?

The ability to identify such situations may help people better regulate their use. Nonetheless, the relevant professionals in each field should be consulted with if pain intensifies. As a general rule, it is very important to take medication exactly as prescribed by doctors, and to consult with them if a situation warrants a change in dosage. Today many doctors are available for consultation online or by phone. Increasing your pain medication dosage without medical consultation is a slippery slope that can result in the body building tolerance to the new dosage, and the desire for ever-increasing dosages.

We recommend that you share the changes that you are going through with your family, including your desire for more painkillers or other substances to help you cope, and that you seek their help in adjusting the new routines of this period to your physical and emotional capabilities. Including them can help explain your behavior and alleviate the frustration that you may both be experiencing.

This period is challenging and requires us to venture beyond our usual and familiar boundaries. People who normally deal with chronic pain need to be more forgiving to themselves during this time, and to accept help from whomever is available. At the same time, it is important to be vigilant about an increase in substance and medication use and changing behaviors, and to seek help when needed. Keep in mind that this period shall pass, and that every day offers a new opportunity to find positive and effective ways of coping with pain, and to receive assistance from professionals and family members.

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