Link between opioid abuse and negative emotions

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Link between opioid abuse and negative emotions

As per new research reported in The Journal of Pain, opioid abuse and an inability to handle negative emotions may be linked. The hypothesis behind the study was the question of whether higher distress intolerance levels make it more likely for a person to abuse prescribed opioids. Researchers from Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women's Hospital and McLean Hospital also wanted to see if levels of stress intolerance were associated with pain sensitivity.

Distress intolerance is the perceived or actual inability to cope with adverse somatic or emotional stress which can be treated effectively with cognitive behavioral therapy. A study evaluated 51 participants from the pain management clinic at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. They completed questionnaires and self-reports regarding pain severity, pain thresholds, distress intolerance and opioid misuse.

The data showed that self-reported distress intolerance was significantly associated with opioid misuse in the sample. The results showed 12% higher chances of opioid misuse per participant. This was based on their level of distress intolerance. Of 51 subjects, 31 met criteria for opioid misuse. According to R. Kathryn McHugh, PhD, lead author and clinical researcher at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass, "This study found robust differences in distress intolerance between adults with chronic pain, with and without opioid medication misuse." Earlier studies suggested that those with chronic pain misusing opioids generally showed higher levels of distress and heightened reactivity to that distress. Distress intolerance can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy.

Distress intolerance was not associated with greater pain sensitivity, but with higher pain-related anxiety. Distress intolerance may be a relevant marker of risk for opioid misuse among those with chronic pain. This may be due to the fact that their bodies get adapted to have pain medication and as the body adapts and craves more medication, it begins to fake itself into thinking there is pain, but there is no pain, or into making the pain feel worse than it actually would be if they were not abusing opioids.

American Pain Society
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