Addiction And Co-Existing Conditions

Chronic pain, anxiety, and grief are just a few conditions that can be associated with addiction

Finding root causes of addiction are often difficult yet helpful in treating this disease. People walk down the path of addiction for a multitude of reasons and figuring out what made them take the first step can help them begin the journey to recovery. There is also the misconception amongst a large percentage of the population that addiction is a free choice. That could not be further from the truth for the vast majority of those suffering from addiction. The truth is that there are a plethora of both physiological and mental health conditions that can make recovery more difficult unless they are also addressed in treatment.

Chronic Pain

One of the most common medical conditions that is strongly correlated to addiction is chronic, noncancerous pain. An estimated fifty million Americans suffer from some form of chronic pain with lower back pain, knee, and shoulder pain being chief amongst the most common areas afflicted. An unintended consequence of the government response during the crackdown following the opioid crisis has been to severely limit the number of drugs that are prescribed.

What happens then is that those who need medication now no longer have access to them. The chronic pain these people suffer from did not magically go away by some government decree and it is common for this population to look elsewhere, usually, illicit drugs, to find some relief.

Conversely, those who are still prescribed drugs may not be prescribed the proper dosage. Over time, the body will build a tolerance to the dosages prescribed, and in turn, the medication becomes useless unless larger doses are prescribed, or the medication is changed. However, in the post-opioid crisis world, this is much more difficult than before. As a result, even the group of chronic pain sufferers who do get prescribed medication look elsewhere to supplement what they currently get. 

Complicating factors, even more, is that the non-opioid treatments for chronic pain, such as intense physical therapy, biofeedback, and chiropractic, psychotherapy, among others, are usually not covered, by most insurance companies or are extremely expensive leaving opioids as the only proven, affordable treatment available for lower-income chronic pain sufferers. Therefore, these people are often a vulnerable population easily susceptible to addiction due to a medical system that has failed to provide affordable alternatives to opioid treatment alone.


Anxiety is a complicated, mental health condition that can lead sufferers towards a life of addiction and complicate recovery efforts. What makes anxiety such a tricky factor is the host of reasons people become anxious in the first place. Specific phobias caused by experiences or trauma, generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and separation anxiety are just a few of the manifestations of this disease.

Often, sufferers of anxiety can experience a whole slew of physical symptoms beyond just their mental torment to include: sweating, hyperventilating, difficulty sleeping, and avoiding triggers that cause the anxiety. These symptoms, especially for those that suffer from severe anxiety, can be crippling and life-altering that affects their quality of life which forces them to find something to alleviate these symptoms. Anxiety sufferers are naturally more susceptible to addiction because of the compulsions they already practice to avoid their triggers. These compulsions translate well and are reinforced through drug addiction since addicts also have their own set of compulsions and rituals. Combine this with the fact that the majority of anxiety sufferers do not get proper treatment explains why this group is often forced to turn to drugs to make it through the day.


An even more interconnected condition that is overlooked than the last two is grief. Grief is defined as deep sadness or sorrow that lasts longer than six months usually after the loss of a loved one but can be attributed to the loss of a relationship, career, or anticipated grief for the loss of any one of these. Grief can have many of the same compulsions and rituals associated with anxiety, but the triggers are related to what has caused the grief.

Grief can become a chronic condition known as prolonged or complicated grief that lasts for more than a year. Sufferers of this condition long for their loved one, and still exhibit many symptoms of those suffering from depression. An interesting note that makes this population more susceptible to addiction is that the reward function of the brain still activates when thinking about the loss. As the reward response becomes less and less over time, sufferers may turn to drugs or some other stimulus to get the same feeling as before.

Final Thought

The link between drug addiction and medical conditions cannot be understated. The list is more exhaustive than the three discussed here. However, these are three of the most common mental and physical health conditions that afflict drug addicts. These sufferers cannot begin proper treatment until these issues are addressed.

The author also wrote, The Addictions Workbook and The Stages of Change Workbook

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