The opioid epidemic is a significant public health problem largely driven by opioid prescriptions for chronic pain. Among those with chronic pain, anxiety and depressive symptoms have been linked to opioid misuse, and individual differences in anxiety and depressive symptoms among adults with chronic pain may be important for better understanding pain. Yet, little work has examined mechanisms that may link anxiety and depressive symptoms to opioid misuse among adults with chronic pain. Anxiety sensitivity (AS), or the fear of anxiety-related physical sensations, may be one candidate construct that has been linked independently to anxiety and depressive symptoms as well as opioid misuse.
The current survey-based study examined the indirect association of AS in the relation between anxiety and depressive symptoms and opioid misuse among 429 adults with chronic pain currently using prescription opioid medication (73.9% female, Mage=38.32 y, SD=11.07).
Using structural equation modeling, it appears that AS is a potential construct in the interrelation between anxiety and depressive symptoms and opioid misuse. However, an alternative model found equally strong empirical support, as mental health symptoms may serve as an explanatory factor between AS and opioid misuse.
Bi-directional effects are apt to be involved among the studied variables. Prospective research is needed to replicate the study results and isolate the temporal patterning between the studied constructs. Nonetheless, the data overall highlight the importance of both AS and anxiety and depressive symptoms in terms of understanding opioid misuse among adults with chronic pain.