A new study has brought up a link between opioid overuse during adulthood and childhood emotional abuse, lending new insight into potential treatment approaches to opioid addiction.
In the research, emotional abuse appeared to correlate more strongly with subjects’ opioid use than physical and sexual abuse as well as other forms of maltreatment such as neglect.
How Emotional Abuse Leads To An Opioid Problem In Later Life
Previous studies concluded that many adults engaging in substance abuse were maltreated in different ways as children.
To dig deeper into the matter, a team from University of Vermont analyzed the results of a number of psychological tests done on 84 individuals with a history of opioid overuse and abuse and suffered childhood trauma at the same time.
What they discovered: those emotionally abused as a child were more likely to have rash and risky conduct as an adolescent and experience post-traumatic stress disorder as an adult.
Using opioids typically offered a solution to PTSD for this group, leading to a variety of new issues in the process. The more severe the PTSD, the more intense the opioid-related issues too.
The study’s senior author and assistant professor Matthew Price explained that there is something different in emotional abuse versus physical or sexual.
"If a person is being physically or sexually abused, it's easier to put the blame on the person doing the abuse. With emotional abuse, the abuser is saying 'You are the problem,'" he explained in a statement.
To protect themselves from the trauma of being called names or being told no one cares about them, people with strong emotional trauma in their childhood years usually adopt avoidance techniques, including opioid use, Price said further.
New Treatment Approaches
Based on the findings, certain therapies may be more productive for opioid abusers who do not respond well to counseling or PTSD treatment. In addition, drug abuse and mental health problems are typically treated separately by different specialists, Price warned.
The authors called for "more integrated treatment, or addressing emotional health and the drug problem at the same time if an opioid abuse patient has experienced great emotional abuse and tends to act out feelings of being upset.
The findings were discussed in the journal Addictive Behaviors.
In a commentary in the Washington Post, Stanford professor Keith Humphreys warned that despite dropping opioid prescriptions in the last few years, the United States still has a bigger opioid problem than any other country in the world.
According to U.N. data, Americans are prescribed around six times as many opioids per capita as are citizens of Portugal and France, despite those nations offering far easier health care access. The United States also consumes over 99 percent of the global supply of the opioid hydrocodone.
"One might think that Americans consume more opioids because as an aging population, they have objectively more aches and pains," Humphreys wrote. "But the U.S. population ranks only 42nd in the world in its proportion of people aged 65 or older."
A recent study showed that the more frequently the doctor prescribes opioids, the more chances there are of developing long-term drug dependence.
CDC data note that deaths from opioid overdose have climbed 72 percent in 2015. More than 33,000 Americans were killed by opioids in that year.