The Connection Between Pain and Smoking

Finding alternatives to smoking for pain relief

Do you find yourself using tobacco when you're in pain? You're not alone. Many people smoke to deal with chronic pain. Almost 100 million Americans live with chronic pain. Most smoke about two times more than the general population.

What should you know?

Smokers are more likely to report that tobacco relieves pain. But someone who smokes is more likely to have higher levels of pain. Tobacco is not useful for long-term pain relief. Even though chemicals in tobacco, such as nicotine, have a pain-relieving effect, once the smoking has stopped, the pain is still present. Pain is worsened by the withdrawal symptoms.

Thoughts for tobacco use treatment

Daily smokers have higher levels of pain during the first 12-24 hours of smoking abstinence. On average, smokers with chronic pain have lower confidence when it's time to stop smoking. They anticipate more severe nicotine withdrawal symptoms during a quit attempt compared to smokers without chronic pain.

What can you do?

Make sure you are honest with your health care team about your interest in quitting tobacco. Using Secure Messaging to talk with your doctor or therapist can help. Veterans with chronic pain are encouraged to use medications and counseling while they attempt to stop smoking. Veterans with chronic pain tend to be more nicotine dependent and may find quitting more difficult. Correct dosing of tobacco cessation medications is important for these patients to quit successfully.

Quitting isn't easy, but you can do it! There are more former smokers today than current smokers - and VA has more tobacco use treatment options available than ever before.

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Pain Management & Tobacco Use (PDF)


Updated March 14, 2021