New research suggests that long-term pain has a dramatic impact on the way the brain processes emotions. Because of the way opioids work, this may suggest why opiate painkillers are not a good choice for chronic pain.

Finding new ways to alleviate or cure chronic pain, however, might help sufferers overcome the emotional impacts to enjoy a higher quality of life.

The Impact of Chronic Pain

According to research by the University of California , chronic pain triggers inflammation in the brain that alters the activity in regions that regulate mood and motivation. This direct link, they postulate, could explain the strong connection between long-term pain and depression, anxiety, and substance abuse problems.

About half of all people with chronic pain exhibit mood and related disorders. After bipolar disorder, chronic pain is the most common illness-related cause of suicide. In the past, many have postulated that it is the pain, disability, and decreased quality of life that was responsible for the association between the two conditions. Now, though, it seems that there’s a direct physiologic link independent of disability and lifestyle impacts. Depression is an immediate side effect of chronic pain.

Why Chronic Pain Blunts Opioids

The dysfunction in the brain caused by chronic pain explains why opioids don’t work well to control chronic pain. Opioids stimulate the release of dopamine, but the brain’s ability to release dopamine is reduced by the brain inflammation that suppresses the emotional centers of the brain. As a result, people don’t experience the palliative effects of opioids. This may cause them to take more medication than is recommended, leading to dependency and even overdoses.

Try Drug-Free Methods of Chronic Pain Control

Researchers in this study hope that their insight will allow them to develop medications that specifically target the effects of chronic pain. Until then, we have to try alternative methods of pain control that can sidestep the drug pathways that can be dangerous for chronic pain sufferers. At present, doctors often prescribe opioids for common illnesses, including headaches in teens.

TMJ treatment can be effective on many types of neuropathy related to pinched nerves in the head and neck. It can’t help everyone, but for those it does help, relief is often immediate, significant, and long-lasting.

If you would like to learn whether TMJ plays a role in your chronic pain, please call (803) 781-9090 for an appointment with a Columbia, SC TMJ dentist at Smile Columbia Dentistry.