Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Each week on Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke, explore different aspects of human behavior and the brain.

Painkillers: What Are They Really Killing?

Eric Norris/flickr
It can sometimes be difficult for doctors and patients alike to know when painkillers are truly needed.

Painkillers: Our societal views on pain are right there in the name of its cure — or, rather, primary form of treatment.

The high reliance on painkillers by the medical community has become an increasingly controversial topic. And for patients, that reliance can easily transform a treatment to an addiction or recreational drug use.

Also, as has been discussed in previous segments of this three-part series on pain, it can sometimes be difficult for doctors and patients alike to know when painkillers are truly needed.

In this final segment of this series on pain, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke wrap things up by discussing the relationship between pain and the brain. They'll also talk a little bit about the evolution of pain as retribution, both biologically and culturally.

Pain gives us a lot to think about. We hope this series has been helpful to explain some of the elements. "No pain, no gain?" We're not so sure. But one thing is certain: Pain is a valuable resource.

You might be aware of the substantial problem of misuse of pain medication. Due to their psychological effects, pain killers are commonly misused for recreational purposes, which often leads to addiction. However, even people are who prescribed these medications with only the intent of stopping their pain find themselves unable to quit—either because they are addicted or the pain will not go away.

This could be because a lot of pain medication doesn't really get rid of any pain, it just helps you to not care about the pain you do feel. As Markman and Duke point out, pain is relative, from person to person and from situation to situation. When you're out playing with your friends and come home with scratches, you might not even know when you got them. Whereas if you're really paying attention to your flu shot, it can really hurt.

This leads us to all sorts of discussions about pain and society. For a long time inflicting physical pain was an acceptable social punishment. Even with dogs and cats, mommas teach with a nip or tap. Yet, as we've "progressed" as a species, the pain we receive for bad behavior is more times than not financial or economic.

Pain is bad, but it's there to teach us something. It's there to tell us to pay attention, to respond. Historian Joanna Bourke, in her book The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers, suggests that we feel pain differently now than people did in the 17th century, because pain is always a cultural feeling.

Rebecca McInroy is an award-winning show creator, host, and executive producer for KUT, KUTX, and KUT.ORG.
Related Content