In patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain, those who misuse opioids alone or in combination with alcohol may experience reduced functioning compared with those who do not misuse these substances, according to a study published in the Journal of Pain.

The study included participants who had been prescribed opioids for the treatment of chronic pain (n=131). Each participant completed an anonymous survey online that was designed to evaluate pain, functioning, opioid misuse, and alcohol misuse. The researchers then categorized participants according to misuse status.

The survey results indicated that 35.9% (n=47) of participants were not misusing either opioids or alcohol, 22.9% (n=30) of participants were misusing both opioids and alcohol, 38.2% (n=50) of participants were misusing opioids alone, and 3.0% (n=4) of participants were misusing alcohol alone.

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Using a multivariate analysis, participants who were not misusing opioids or alcohol were found to experience lower levels of disability and distress compared with participants who were misusing opioids alone or in combination with alcohol.

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“Results from this study qualify the need for increased research and clinical investigation into assessing and treating opioid and alcohol misuse behaviors in patients with chronic pain,” the researchers wrote.

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Vowles KE, Witkiewitz K, Peilech M, et al. Alcohol and opioid use in chronic pain: a cross-sectional examination of differences in functioning based on misuse status [published online May 11, 2018]. J Pain. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2018.04.013