Understanding Links Between Opioid Use and Mood Disorders

Understanding Links Between Opioid Use and Mood Disorders

The abuse of prescription painkillers is becoming a serious international problem. Those diagnosed for a legitimate chronic pain problem often become addicted to opioids when they require increasingly larger doses to treat their pain.

With so many people affected by opioid addiction, it is very important to understand all of the possible complications and co-occurring disorders that may appear when large numbers within the population are addicted to opioids.

A recent study by researchers at Johns Hopkins provides new information about the mood disorders that are often connected with opioid addiction. Led by Silvia S. Martins of the Department of Mental Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland, the study built on previous research conducted by Martins.

In her current study, Martins hoped to establish whether opioid use led to anxiety and/or mood disorders (precipitation theory), if mood problems turned into the misuse of opioids (self-medication theory), or if the two problems were related through relational influences. This may present itself as a situation where a person misusing opioids was predisposed to mental health problems and developed anxiety or depression.

Martins examined the presence of a family history of mental illness among those who abuse opioids. The information was gained through 34,000 records from a larger national study. The relationships between substance use and moods were evaluated from information gathered in 2001 (Time 1) and three years later (Time 2).

Martins was able to establish that all of the participants who misused opioids at Time 1 were more likely to meet criteria for depression, anxiety and mood issues when evaluated at Time 2. There was a clear link identified between mood issues and opioid misuse. A lifetime history of depression or anxiety identified at Time 1 led to opioid misuse at Time 2 in all of the participants involved.

In addition, Martins found that when opioid use was detected at Time 1, there was an increased risk of anxiety developing at Time 2. She also found that those who met criteria for mood problems like depression and panic at Time 1 were more likely to report use of opioids by Time 2 than those who did not have these types of mood disorders.

Martins says that the information could be pivotal in developing screening for those at high risk of both mental illness and opioid abuse. Identifying either problem early can help prevent the development of another problem that can complicate the treatment of either drug dependence or a mental disorder.

The research study also established that there was a shared relationship between the two problems of mental illness and opioid use among some of the sample subjects.

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