Patients taking prescription opioids are at higher risk of developing mood disorders

People who are prescribed opioids for pain relief have a higher risk of developing mood disorders such as anxiety, researchers from the University of Queensland have found.

The study, conducted by Dr Janni Leung from UQ National Center for Youth Substance Use Research, systematically examined the effects of prescribed opioids on mental health.

There has been a lot of research into addiction to opioids – commonly used in the treatment of cancer or acute pain – but little is understood about how they affect the development of mood disorders.

Our research looked at studies of patients who were prescribed opioids to treat painful physical health conditions, including burns and trauma surgeries.

We compared these samples with people who did not use opioids or who were prescribed lower doses, and the results showed that higher doses of prescription opioids may increase the risk of developing depressive disorders. , bipolar and anxious, especially with prolonged use.

Dr. Janni Leung, UQ National Center for Youth Substance Use Research

Dr. Leung said the relationship between chronic pain and mental health is complex, as each condition contributes to the other.

“Over the past two decades, the prescription of opioids for pain management has increased,” Dr. Leung said.

“Search in the influence of opioids on mental health is still in its infancy, and more research is needed to uncover how the drug affects different mood disorders.

The co-author of the journal Dr. Daniel Stjepanovic of UQ’s National Center for Youth Substance Use Research said it was important to understand all the risks before prescribing the drug to a patient.

“Mental health effects should be considered when prescribing opioids, especially in people at risk for mood disorders such as anxiety or depression,” Dr. Stjepanovic said.

“Understanding the role that opioids play in the development of these mood disorders is extremely important to ensure that people receive the care and treatment they need, without putting them at high risk.”


The University of Queensland

Journal reference:

Leung, J. et al. (2022) Mood and anxiety symptoms in people taking prescription opioids: a systematic review with meta-analyses of longitudinal studies. Pain medication.

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