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J Consult Clin Psychol. 2019 Oct;87(10):872-886. doi: 10.1037/ccp0000402.

Concurrent and lagged associations of prescription opioid use with pain and negative affect in the daily lives of chronic pain patients.

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Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, Brown University.
Department of Psychological Sciences, Purdue University.
Department of Anesthesiology, Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri.



Prescribed opioids for chronic pain management contribute significantly to the opioid crisis. There is a need to understand the real-world benefits that, despite risks, lead chronic pain patients to persist in opioid use. Negative reinforcement models of addiction posit that individuals use substances to reduce aversive states but have seldom been applied to prescribed opioids. Using ecological momentary assessment, we examined reciprocal associations between opioid use and physical pain, for which opioids are prescribed, and negative affect (NA), for which they are not.


Chronic low back pain patients on long-term opioid therapy (n = 34) without significant past-year opioid misuse reported multiple times daily via smartphone over 2 weeks (nobservations = 2,285). We hypothesized that pain and NA would be positively associated with subsequent opioid use, and that use would be negatively associated with subsequent pain and NA.


Time-lagged multilevel models indicated that participants were more likely to use opioids and in larger doses following elevated pain and NA. There was also an interaction of concurrent pain and NA on opioid dose. In turn, participants reported reduced pain and NA following larger doses. Additionally, individuals at high risk for opioid misuse, compared with low risk, took larger doses following pain, but also experienced smaller subsequent pain and NA reductions.


Opioid use was bidirectionally associated with pain and NA. Findings fit negative reinforcement models associated with risk of developing opioid use disorder. Educating patients and providers about negative reinforcement may help reduce opioid use and opioid-associated risks. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).

[Available on 2020-10-01]

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