In collaboration with Keck School of Medicine

Is Drinking Alcohol Easing the Chronic Pain?

beer bottle and beer mug

Millions of people in America suffer from chronic pain. Millions also love to drink alcohol on a regular basis. When combining the two, there may be some issues that those who work with chronic pain patients and those who have alcohol use disorder need to be aware of. It may be beneficial to address both issues when found in the same person, which is not uncommon. Alcohol use disorder is an issue that needs to be investigated, and that is what researchers have been doing.

In a research study published in the May 2024 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers looked at the issue of what they refer to as an overlooked epidemic – alcohol use disorder and chronic pain [1]. They report that the two conditions often co-occur, yet their comorbidity is frequently overlooked. This is despite the fact that it is prevalent and relevant. They report that those who suffer from alcohol use disorder are more likely to experience chronic pain, and those who experience chronic pain commonly turn to drinking alcohol as a way to alleviate it.

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When people turn to using alcohol as a way to help ease their chronic pain, they build a tolerance to it, which leads them to need more alcohol to have the same effect. The increase in alcohol consumption puts people at risk for other issues, including those that impact their physical and mental health and their overall well-being. Many people who attempt to give up alcohol experience withdrawal syndrome, as well as an increased sensitivity to pain, which increases their chances of going back to alcohol.

Once people turn to alcohol to help ease chronic pain, they are often heading down a path that will continue to be a cycle of using it, trying to give it up, needing more of it, and going back to it again. There are neurobiological changes that lead to a preoccupation with the pain and cravings for alcohol, according to the researchers, which further establishes the relationship between the two. Currently, research is being done that may help improve both conditions simultaneously. In the meantime, they recommend that those working around patients who experience alcohol use disorder and chronic pain should not overlook the relationship between the two.

Alcohol use disorder, according to the National Institutes of Health, is a medical condition that impairs the ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse consequences [2]. It includes the conditions that people often refer to as alcoholism, alcohol abuse, alcohol addiction, etc. It is considered a brain disorder and can be mild, moderate, or severe. They report that nearly 29 million adults in the country have alcohol use disorder.

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Like what you’re learning? Consider enrolling in the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC’s online, competency-based certificate or master’s program in Pain Medicine in partnership with the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

This article was originally published on Confronting Chronic Pain by Dr. Steven Richeimer, Director Pain Medicine Master and Certificate.


  1. American Journal of Psychiatry. Alcohol Use Disorder and Chronic Pain: An Overlooked Epidemic. May 2024.
  2. National Institutes of Health. Alcohol’s Effects on Health.
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