Prevalence and Characteristics of Chronic Pain in Patients Admitted to an Outpatient Drug and Alcohol Treatment Program


  • Original Research Articles

Robert Sheu, MD, Department of Pain Medicine and Palliative Care, Beth Israel Medical Center, 10 Union Square East, 4K, New York, NY 10003, USA. Tel: 212-844-6776; Fax: 212-844-8931; E-mail:


Objectives.  To evaluate the prevalence, characteristics, and correlates of chronic pain in a population of predominantly employed, alcoholic patients attending an outpatient drug and alcohol treatment program.

Methods.  A pain survey was administered to 79 patients attending an outpatient drug and alcohol treatment program situated in a suburban community outside of New York City. Chronic severe pain was defined as pain that 1) had persisted for at least 6 months; and 2) was either moderate to severe in intensity or significantly interfered with daily activities.

Results.  Seventy-six percent of patients experienced pain during the past week. Chronic severe pain was experienced by 29.1% of patients. High levels of pain interference with physical and psychosocial functioning were reported by 26.1%. Patients with chronic severe pain were more likely to have significant comorbidity, to cite physical pain as the impetus for alcohol or drug abuse, to have abused a prescription drug or used an illicit drug to treat pain during the prior 3 months, and to have used illicitly obtained opioids. Only 13% of patients with chronic severe pain were currently receiving pain treatment and 72% expressed interest in receiving treatment.

Discussion.  Chronic severe pain was prevalent in this predominantly employed, alcoholic population attending an outpatient drug and alcohol treatment program. Pain was associated with significant functional impairment, medical and psychiatric comorbidities, and abuse behaviors. Few patients accessed adequate pain treatment. Efforts should be made to better address the pain problems in this patient population.