Analgesic addiction and pseudoaddiction in painful chronic illness

Joanne Lusher, James Elander, David Bevan, Paul Telfer, Bernice Burton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


OBJECTIVES: Research is needed to enable more effective assessment and treatment of analgesic addiction among patients with painful chronic illnesses and to improve our understanding of the staff-patient interactions that give rise to pseudoaddiction. This study tested predictions that certain drug-use behaviors and pain-coping strategies were associated with analgesic addiction, and that certain were associated with risk of pseudoaddiction.

METHODS: Analgesic addiction and risk of pseudoaddiction among patients with sickle cell disease were measured by symptom counts, using an interview method for classifying symptoms as pain-related (pseudoaddiction) or non-pain-related (analgesic addiction). Concern-raising drug-use behaviors and treatment requirements for pain were also assessed, and participants completed the pain-coping strategies questionnaire. Qualitative case descriptions of patients meeting criteria for analgesic addiction and pseudoaddiction were examined to identify common and distinctive features of the two groups.

RESULTS: Consistent with predictions, multiple regression analyses showed that disputes about analgesics were independently associated with risk of pseudoaddiction. Physiological dependence and illicit drug use were both associated with analgesic addiction, independently of other factors. The qualitative data showed that analgesic addiction was not an obvious, clear-cut phenomenon: addiction and pseudoaddiction were superficially similar, and even symptoms of genuine addiction originated in patients' experiences of pain and illness.

CONCLUSIONS: These tentative findings were broadly consistent with what is known about analgesic addiction and pseudoaddiction in other painful conditions. They also suggested that current recommendations about addiction in pain patients could understate the potential importance of physiological dependence. The findings could inform staff training programs to improve pain management and reduce the incidence of pseudoaddiction. The classification of pain-related and non-pain-related symptoms could be used in further research on the development of analgesic addiction and the factors that influence staff attributions about addiction in patients with pain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)316-324
Number of pages9
JournalThe Clinical Journal of Pain
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Adult
  • Analgesics
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell
  • Chronic Disease
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Pain
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders
  • United Kingdom
  • Clinical Trial
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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