Home » Blog Articles » New Research » Is There a Link Between Chronic Pain & Opioid Use Disorder?

Studies are starting to explore possible connections between the occurrence of chronic pain and opioid use disorder (OUD). Specifically, is there a correlation between individuals who suffer from chronic pain and the probability that these same individuals will receive an opioid use disorder diagnosis?

As a reminder, opioid use disorder, or OUD, is a chronic disease of the brain where people will continue to use opioid-type drugs even though these substances are causing physical and mental harm to their bodies. Much like any other chronic disease, if people with OUD do not receive proper treatment, they may experience substantial harm.

Ohio State University researchers explored the connection between chronic pain and OUD. The OSU study suggest that there is evidence for a connection between long-term, chronic pain experiences and the occurrence of opioid use disorder. In fact, many of the patients listed chronic pain as the main reason for starting and continuing to use opioids. As a reminder, the condition of chronic pain is a leading cause of disability in many countries across the world.

The study looked at 141 patients who were receiving treatment for opioid use disorder at OSU Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, OH. Each patient’s quality of life was measured in a total of 8 domains. Researchers found that individuals who were identified as having a greater amount of central sensitization were more likely to use opioids. Essentially, there was a correlation between a patient having a low quality of life, an OUD diagnosis, and the occurrence of central sensitization.

Central Sensitization: Elevated & Lingering Pain

The health condition known as central sensitization is typically explained as an amplification of neural signaling within a person’s central nervous system. People with this condition will likely elicit a greater sensitivity to pain, so they may actually feel more pain..

This means that these individuals experience abnormal pain sensations in their nervous system. It is as if their brains are unable to regulate and turn off pain signals once the cause of the pain is gone. Not surprisingly, individuals who are diagnosed with central sensitization, are more likely to experience less effective medical treatment outcomes.

The OSU Wexner Medical Center study found that negative environmental experiences such as childhood abuse and adult trauma can also lead to the development of central sensitization in people. On a similar note, other studies have also pointed out a link between people who have experienced past trauma and higher rates of alcohol use disorder in this population. Higher rates of past trauma seem to predict elevated rates of addiction in the future.

The OSU Wexner Medical Center research strongly suggest that central sensitization is a main factor in the development of opioid addiction. Successfully treating OUD is a challenge, but the occurrence of central sensitization presents additional barriers for recovery.

Researchers plan to continue this area of study by monitoring patients who have been diagnosed with both central sensitization and OUD. Do these individuals respond differently to treatments over the long term? Are the existing OUD treatments helpful for this population?

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