By Pat Anson, Editor
The dangers of alcohol are well known – from drunk driving to health, work and social problems. But with opioid painkillers becoming harder to obtain, some chronic pain sufferers are turning to alcohol to dull their pain.
And now there’s research to back them up.
In an analysis of 18 studies published in the Journal of Pain, British researchers found “robust evidence” that a few drinks can be an effective pain reliever.
“Findings suggest that alcohol is an effective analgesic that delivers clinically-relevant reductions in ratings of pain intensity, which could explain alcohol misuse in those with persistent pain despite its potential consequences for long-term health,” wrote lead author Trevor Thompson, PhD, University of Greenwich.
Thompson and his colleagues say a blood-alcohol content of .08% -- which meets the legal definition of drunk driving in many U.S. states – produces a “moderate to large reduction in pain intensity” and a small elevation in pain threshold.
“It can be compared to opioid drugs such as codeine and the effect is more powerful than paracetamol (acetaminophen),” Thompson told The Sun newspaper. “If we can make a drug without the harmful side effects then we could have something that is potentially better than what is out there at the moment.”
Despite the risks involved, some pain sufferers are turning to alcohol as a last resort and mixing it with pain relievers – a potentially lethal combination.
“My doctor took me off all opioids last year and put me on Effexor, Naproxen, and extended relief Tylenol. It barely touches my pain so I am also drinking each night to help dull the pain,” one patient told us.
“The doctor tried gabapentin but I ended up with an overnight stay in the hospital due to a bad reaction to the medication,” another patient said. “I'm now using alcohol nightly to help me sleep along with high amounts of Naproxen and Tylenol daily.”
“I suffer extreme back and neck pain. Since they no longer prescribed painkillers I started drinking and find it is helpful. I take also thousand mg of arthritis Tylenol every day,” wrote another patient. “It's either suicide or drinking. Frankly I'd prefer death. Too bad they can't give painkillers anymore.”
How much is too much?
According to the Mayo Clinic, moderate alcohol consumption for healthy adults means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.