Pain and substance abuse worsen each other, research finds

Mental Health
substance abuse

In a literature review conducted at Binghamton University in the US, researchers find pain and substance use both worsen and maintain physical suffering and addiction.

The ongoing opioid epidemic transpiring in the United States evidently warrants scientific investigation to aid its derailment. Substance abuse as a public health concern only continues to rise as the number of overdose deaths soar.

Ditre and colleagues sought to elucidate the effects of pain and substance abuse, specifically with non-opioid substance dependence, as these concerns are prevalent and burdening upon public health and modern society. Most of the American population have used at least one non-opioid substance, and cigarette smoking remains the leading preventable cause of disease and death in the country.

As published in the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, the researchers analyzed over 100 studies fixated upon pain and substance use. Thereafter, the research was combined into a reciprocal model whereby pain and substance abuse intertwined in a positive feedback loop – augmenting each other over time.

Relationship between substance abuse and pain is a vicious cycle

Emily Zale, Assistant Psychology Professor at Binghamton University, affirms that this relationship is a “[…] vicious cycle: substance use can worsen pain, pain can motivate escalations in substance use or make it harder to quit, and these repeated cycles can result in more severe pain and worsening addiction.”

As a result, Zale notes that treatment for substance use disorders should include a concurrent assessment for the level of pain experienced and its duration.

Moreover, the current research identifies that physical suffering can worsen as a drug withdrawal symptom. Whether the substance abuse involves smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol or using cannabis, clinicians should formulate healthy strategies to cope with the ongoing pain.

However, the work is nevertheless in its infancy. To better understand how pain and substance use are entangled together, future studies should assess relevant sociodemographic factors and possible comorbid psychopathology.

As non-opioid substance abuse only continues to rise in popularity, further elucidating the pain-substance use relationship and its mediators is pivotal in order to develop effective treatments that may break this vicious cycle.

Written by Helen Marzec

References:

  1. Pain and substance use interact in a vicious cycle. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-01/bu-pas011419.php
  2. Ditre, J. W., Zale, E. L., & LaRowe, L. R. (2018). A Reciprocal Model of Pain and Substance Use: Transdiagnostic Considerations, Clinical Implications, and Future Directions. Annual review of clinical psychology.

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