‘Pain-Drug-Pain Repeat’ – The Catch-22 of Addiction

The Cobweb Of Addiction. Ipsa Wonders

At some point in our lives, we all must have experienced pain. Do you remember the last time, this unpleasant sensation created absolute emotional havoc for you? However, why does our body need to feel pain? Aren’t we better off without it?

If we draw parallels, the mechanism causing pain is quite comparable to the pipeline during wartime correspondence. Although, health care professionals will argue that pain is far more elegant, complex and faster.

The key players here are the site of injury (the war-front), the nerve cells (the military correspondent), your spinal cord (the operator) and Mr BIG BRAIN (the high commander).

Let’s say you placed your hand on a hot stove (please don’t do it!). Your nerve cells instantaneously gather this information. In response to it, nerve cells fire millions of signals to the spinal cord. This information is then relayed to our brain to make you feel the pain and alerts you to pull your hand away in split seconds, which saves your hand from any further burning.

What a painful save, isn’t it? However, this bugger pain will stay with you for sometime to come.

Many Players Are Invoved To Make You Feel The Pain. http://www.dreamstime.com

When we think of pain, most of us think of acute pain, which is common and often a temporary condition. With acute pain, you typically know where and why it hurts. For instance, your scrapped knee bothers you, or you feel the pain at the site of an incision, post-surgery. The chronic pain, on the other hand, is defined as pain that lasts more than 12 weeks, sometimes even the whole lifetime. This kind of pain in many cases persists, even when the damage is completely healed or may arise without any initial injury.

The phantom of chronic pain has crumpled one in five of us, i.e., a total of 1.5 billion people around the globe. Leading a meaningful life with chronic pain is taxing, and seems to depend on the patient’s will and assistance from healthcare professionals.

Additionally, these are the patients who are most prone to fall victim to long term drug abuse, in a desperate attempt to find relief. To seek a solution for these patients, it is critical to understand what could trigger pain and addiction, and if these two are co-dependent.

A recent joint study, lead by Lisa R. LaRowe , at the Binghamton and Syracuse University, New York looked into this matter closely.

The group looked at results from over 100 studies on pain and substance abuse. They integrated these two parameters (pain and addiction due to substance abuse), as an empirical inquiry into a reciprocal mathematical model. This way, they could prove that pain and substance abuse interact in the manner of a positive feedback loop, i.e., greater the pain a person experiences greater the maintenance of addiction over time.

This might seem intuitive, however, so far researchers have only examined either how substance use affects pain or how pain affects substance use, separately. This kind of modelling for the first time stitch together two different types of research to demonstrate how pain and substance use affect one another.

It is like a never-ending vicious cycle. While substance abuse can be a potential risk factor for chronic pain, experiencing pain can motivate people to be dependent on substances harder to quit.

This study will be especially important for the cases, where the clinicians treating addictions, might help their patients managing underlying chronic pain or for those patients who self-medicate to cope with pain. Providing their patient’s alternative health strategies could assist their patients to combat substance abuse and cope with pain.

Following up with this study, it will be now up to the biochemists and neuroscientists to understand the underlining mechanism and potential proteins underneath this co-dependency, so as to develop treatments to break this loop.


The cover image is made by a science communicator friend, Ipsa Jain. She uses arts and design to start conversations about science. Ipsawonders is one woman labor of love. She wants to create beautiful things that speak science


We publish using the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license so that users can read, download and reuse text and data for free – provided the authors, illustrators, and the primary sources are given appropriate credit.

Am I privileged to be multi-lingual?

On a nondescript day, maybe I was 7 that time, I walked the few steps home from my new school, and found my Dad bouncing around in the middle of our living room and hugging my Ma. The reason for the excitement was yet another UN Job. My tiny brain in a rapid-fire fashion learned we were moving again.

Multilingual Children. http://www.shutterstock.com

Being a daughter of a diplomat, I’ve changed at least a dozen schools. Often these relocations accompanied months of struggle to pick up a new language. So, it became an innate ‘character makeup’ to be multi-lingual for my sibling and me. As time passed, the fear of confronting yet another new language subsidised for us and was replaced by a ‘biased pride’ of multilingualism. However, what often haunts me though:

  • Does it really give us an upper hand over the monolingual children, when it comes to the brain’s executive functions?
  • Can we really deal with real-life and ever-changing academic setups any better than many?

Some studies indeed showed a slight advantage for bilinguals relative to monolinguals on tasks of attentional control (Bialystok, 2006; Bialystok, Craik, Klein, & Viswanathan, 2004).

However, a recent study at the University of Tennessee, led by Nils and Julia Jaekel argued that bilingual children do not have more advantages than monolingual children when it comes to executive functions like remembering instructions, controlling responses, and switching swiftly in between tasks.

In their study design, the scientists used a computer test (Wright and Diamond, 2014) to compare the executive function of two groups of children between the ages of 5-15 living in the German Ruhr region. The first cohort consisted of 242 children who spoke both Turkish and German, and the other group consisted of 95 children who spoke only German. They monitored the time bilingual and monolingual children required to correctly respond to computer-based problems and stimuli. The results showed no difference in the executive functions of the two groups. The researchers carefully, also considered children’s German and Turkish vocabulary size and their exposure to both languages, factors for which previous studies lacked.

So, does this mean there is no value addition in speaking more than one language? Not really!! It can very well be that the bilingual children are not necessarily more focused, speaking another language indeed opens the door to other socio-economic opportunities.

Nevertheless, it is important to extend the research further on this topic, to assist parents, teachers, recruiters and lawmakers not to overstress on the benefits of speaking a second language.

Cover image: Multilingual children. http://www.shutterstock.com

We publish using the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license so that users can read, download and reuse text and data for free – provided the authors, illustrators, and the primary sources are given appropriate credit.