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Can pain be addictive?

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Can pain be addictive?

For most people, pain is an unpleasant thing. But some people seem to find satisfaction in pain - they seem to be addicted to it. But how can that be?

Dieser Beitrag ist auch verfügbar auf: Deutsch

Around 35 percent of young people in Germany have already inflicted pain on themselves or do so regularly by deliberately scratching or burning their extremities. Many sufferers use this method as an outlet against stress. In the worst case, the desire for pain can become an addiction.

In fact, studies show that the brain becomes accustomed to pain over time – and that is not all: “The circuits in the brain for pain and addiction are very closely connected,” explains psychiatrist Prof. Dr. Walter Zieglgänsberger. The pain-relieving hormones released by the brain can induce a euphoric, almost trance-like state.

Pain can lead to a state of intoxication – like being on drugs

But it is not only individuals such as young people with borderline personality disorder who can become addicted; athletes can also become addicted to physical pain: For example, when a marathon runner exceeds their pain threshold during a run, the hormones released often cause a high that can last up to eight hours. A dose of heroin, on the other hand, lasts only about five hours.

However, all of these high states have one thing in common: they are addictive. And similar to the effects of other addictive substances on the body, exposure to pain can lead to tolerance. This means that more and more pain is needed to achieve the same effect. This can lead to a vicious cycle in which people need to feel more and more pain to get the same relief or high.

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