Using Alcohol To Relieve Chronic Pain: Effects & Risks

Last Updated: February 17, 2023

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Many people turn to alcohol to ease their chronic pain. In fact, people have been using alcohol to alleviate their pain for centuries, as alcohol has been known to have a numbing effect on the body. Yet, while alcohol might temporarily reduce chronic pain, the consequences can put people at risk for harmful health issues, not the least of which is alcoholism.

Using Alcohol To Ease Chronic Pain

Studies have long confirmed that alcohol can lower pain, and more recent research has found that over one-quarter of people with chronic pain use alcohol to minimize their discomfort.

People generally turn to alcohol as a method of self-treating chronic pain because it changes how the brain perceives pain. Alcohol stimulates GABA receptors in the brain. This suppresses normal brain signaling, including pain signals, reducing pain levels.

Usually, when people are using alcohol to treat their pain, they typically consume a lot more than what is safe for the body, according to health guidelines. That is because it usually takes consuming an excessive amount of alcohol for an individual to feel the sought-after effects.

The more alcohol is consumed to treat chronic pain, the more tolerant the body becomes. Thus, more alcohol will consistently be required to achieve the pain-numbing effects for which users look. By constantly increasing alcohol intake and tolerance levels, a person can quickly and easily develop a dependence on alcohol while getting stuck in a cycle of ever-increasing alcohol use.

Drinking too much alcohol regularly to alleviate pain can worsen chronic pain. This is because excessive alcohol use over a long period can create small fiber peripheral neuropathy or damage to the nerves in your extremities. 

When a person does not consume alcohol for a while, withdrawal symptoms will kick in, which can increase pain sensitivity. In turn, people will be more enticed to continue drinking alcohol to avoid increased pain related to alcohol withdrawal.

Fibromyalgia and Alcohol Use

Fibromyalgia is a common cause of chronic pain. It causes widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue and tenderness in localized areas. No one knows exactly what causes fibromyalgia, but doctors believe it amplifies painful sensations by affecting how your brain processes pain signals.

Treatments for fibromyalgia include:

  • Pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers can help. In some cases, a doctor might prescribe a stronger pain reliever.
  • Antidepressants: Certain antidepressants are sometimes used to help ease the pain and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia.
  • Anti-seizure drugs: Some medications designed to treat epilepsy also effectively reduce fibromyalgia symptoms.
  • Muscle relaxants: These medications can help reduce muscle tension and promote sleep.

Other interventions include physical therapy, occupational therapy, exercise and stress-reduction measures.

Alcohol can disrupt sleep, which can worsen the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Additionally, alcohol can interact with medications used to manage fibromyalgia, potentially causing side effects or making them less effective. 

Alcohol can also intensify feelings of depression or anxiety, which are common in people with fibromyalgia. Someone with fibromyalgia should discuss using alcohol with their doctor before drinking.

Alcohol and Pain Medication

If someone is taking any prescribed or over-the-counter pain medication at the same time they are drinking alcohol, it can put their body at an even bigger risk of danger. Mixing alcohol and pain medication can be harmful and even deadly in some cases. 

If people take any sedative medications to deal with their pain, mixing it with alcohol can elevate the sedative effects and lead to overdose. If someone mixes alcohol with aspirin or acetaminophen they risk gastric bleeding and liver failure.

Alcohol can affect hundreds of medications. It is vital to talk with your doctor or pharmacist about the risks of using alcohol with any medication, even if it is over-the-counter. 


Using alcohol to help manage chronic pain involves several risks. These risks can be psychological or physical and include:

  • Increasing tolerance
  • Dependence 
  • Addiction
  • Liver damage
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Immune system suppression
  • Increased risk of injury
  • Interactions with medications
  • Sleep disruption
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Mood swings
  • Increased pain perception
  • Social isolation
  • Risk of suicide

Anyone who uses alcohol regularly to help with their chronic pain and has one or more of these symptoms should consider talking to a doctor about the possibility that they have an alcohol addiction.

Addressing Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is difficult to live with; however, many approaches can be used to help with the pain. 

  • Physical therapy (PT) can help by offering exercises, stretches and techniques to alleviate pain and improve mobility. 
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help individuals develop coping mechanisms and reframe negative thoughts associated with pain. 
  • Alternative therapies can also supplement medical treatments and provide additional relief. 

Alcohol is not a solution for chronic pain. It might provide some short-term relief; however, it can worsen symptoms and lead to addiction in the long term. If someone relies on alcohol to help with their chronic pain, seeking professional help for alcohol addiction is important. Professional treatment can help people overcome alcohol dependency and empower them to find a healthy approach to managing their chronic pain.

Seeking Alcohol Addiction Recovery

If someone has developed an alcohol dependence to deal with chronic pain, addiction recovery should be considered. Your problem with alcoholism, as it relates to your chronic pain, must be appropriately addressed for you to eliminate your need for alcohol.

Once the body develops a constant need for alcohol — whether to deal with pain or simply because of relentless cravings — outside help is needed. Alcohol rehab is your best bet to beat your addiction once and for all.

If you are struggling with alcohol addiction, help is available. Contact a Recovery Advocate anytime. 

Break Free From Alcohol Addiction

We are dedicated to your recovery. Let us build a treatment plan that is tailored to your needs today.


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